Since I caught her chowing down on a dog chew I’m starting to doubt whether my daughter’s palate is a good barometer of culinary skill. Nevertheless, I made what I consider to be a very tasty and versatile sweet pepper sauce on Monday, which she has been gobbling down happily with spaghetti. For today’s lunch I thought I’d try something different so I plopped it on some polenta cubes, inspired by a woman I met on Tuesday who said her baby was into ‘anything cubed’. It went down very quickly.
For a more grown up pasta sauce I added some roughly chopped green olives and capers, fresh parsley and dried chilli. It goes without saying really, but this basic tomato and sweet pepper sauce could also be used as a base on homemade pizzas or as a healthy substitute for tomato ketchup with meat or fish.
Polenta cubes with sweet pepper sauce and basil oil
2 tbsp quick-cook polenta (serves a hungry one-year-old)
125ml hot water
1/2 tsp basil pesto
1 dsp extra virgin olive oil
For the sweet pepper sauce
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 tin plum tomatoes
Splash red wine (optional, best avoid if serving to a very young baby!)
1 branch fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic
To make the sauce, slice the peppers into 2-3″ pieces, quarter the onion into wedges and arrange skin-sides up in a roasting dish. Drizzle with a little olive oil and roast in a hot oven (200c) for 40 mins until the vegetables are sweet and soft.
Leave the peppers to cool for a few minutes and then pinch and peel off the skins. Chop the skinned peppers and roast onion roughly.
Fry off the chopped garlic very quickly in olive oil until just brown, then add the red wine (if using) and tinned tomatoes before the garlic burns. Add the thyme leaves, black pepper and the roughly chopped roasted peppers and onion.
Cook off on the hob until the sauce thickens, about 20 mins on a very low simmer. When cooked, blend until smooth with a hand blender.
If serving to adults, you can now use the red pepper sauce as a base for a tasty puttanesca by adding chopped capers, olives, anchovies and chilli.
To cook the polenta, bring the water to the boil in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the polenta. Bring back to the boil and time for five-eight minutes. Stir the polenta constantly with a spatula. When all the water is absorbed and the polenta is smooth, thick and creamy, it’s ready.
Smooth the cooked polenta into a shallow mould, I have used a mini flan tin. After a couple of minutes it should be firm enough to cut into cubes.
Dilute a little basil pesto with some more olive oil and drizzle over the polenta cubes along with the red pepper sauce.
Serve to greedy babies and let them play with their food.
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