Like a lot of kids, my boys were picky eaters growing up. They spent most of their childhood eating macaroni and cheese…every night I tell you. For someone who loves to cook, this seemed like a cruel twist of fate for me as their mom. Family meals are precious to me, so I never wanted to have food battles with them. I just kept hoping if they saw how much I loved all the vegetable-centered meals I made, that maybe, just maybe someday they would get curious.
Fast forward many years and now I have two young men in my house who will eat just about anything I make and like it. Hallelujah!
Way back when, my mom gave me one of those how-to-sneak-nutritious-food-into-your-kids-meals cookbook: The Sneaky Chef. I wasn’t too sure about this book. I didn’t like the idea of being sneaky. So it sat on my cookbook shelves for years. Then one day I decided to give it a try. And I was totally upfront with the boys: “Hey, I’m going to try this sneaky thing, let’s see if you like it.”
We picked a pasta with breadcrumbs recipe and it was a winner! We went through a phase where we made this A LOT. I felt good because it seemed a little better than their usual boxed (organic – ha!) mac and cheese. They loved it. Then I forgot all about this recipe and life moved on.
Last week, my oldest (a senior in high school now!) asked about that crunchy pasta thing we used to make. So I went to the store, got the ingredients and he and I made it together. This time around I added roasted butternut squash and brussels sprouts and it was amazing.
We started by making the breading, so simple. Just throw panko breadcrumbs, raw almonds and wheat germ in the food processor with a little sea salt and mix it all up. Cook the pasta and saute in olive oil and vegan margarine until it gets lightly brown and crunchy.
Add the breadcrumb mixture and season to taste.
To add a little extra flavor, I sautéed some chopped fresh sage in vegan margarine and drizzled this on top. The boys topped theirs with some freshly grated parmesan cheese taking the idea of macaroni and cheese to a whole new level. 🙂
This is a recipe with a lot of possibilities. You could add roasted broccoli, zucchini, carrots, onions…whatever works for you and your family.
Crunchy Penne with Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts + Sage Butter
Serves 4 (including teenagers)
1 cup panko breadcrumbs (I used Ian’s GF panko breadcrumbs)
1 cup raw almonds
1 cup wheat germ
1lb cooked penne pasta or elbow macaroni (I used brown rice pasta)
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2in cubes
4-5 cups brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
1/2-1 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
3-4 tbsp vegan margarine (I used Earth Balance)
3-4 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
Pre-heat oven to 400F. Place cut butternut squash on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with about 1 tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Place brussels sprouts on another baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables until tender about 20-30 minutes. Brussels sprouts will probably be done before the squash.
Cook the pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, make the breading mixture.
Combine breadcrumbs, almonds and wheat germ in a food processor and pulse until mixture is the consistency of corn meal. Add 1 tsp of sea salt and combine again.
In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt 1 tbsp vegan margarine and 2 tbsp olive oil. Add cooked pasta and saute until the pasta begins to lightly brown and become crunchy. Add about 1 cup of the panko breading mixture and stir to combine until nicely toasted. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking.
In a small skillet, melt 1 tbsp vegan margarine and add fresh chopped sage. Saute for a few minutes and set aside.
Combine the roasted vegetables, breaded crunchy pasta and drizzle with sage butter. Serve warm. (You could serve the pasta on its own and the vegetables separately if your kids aren’t ready for brussels sprouts) 😉
Note: This recipe can be made gluten free without the wheat germ.