Sneaky Spaghetti Sauce

>> Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When I hear people say that if you prepare vegetables well enough and often enough, then your child will eat them and love them, I automatically think one of two things.  First, they are incredibly lucky to have a child who apparently isn't a picky eater.  Or secondly, they don't have kids.  These naysayers also judge those parents who choose to 'hide' vegetables in the food they prepare their children.  "I mean, by hiding vegetables in food, how will the poor child ever learn to eat and appreciate vegetables on their own?!?"

I used to be one of these people.  Being somewhat of a foodie, I naively believed that by offering Finley the same foods I prepared for Andrew and myself, she would naturally develop a sophisticated palate.  And compared to most kids her age, maybe she has.  But she's still only two and a half and will choose a (veggie, organic) chicken nugget over broccolini any day of the week.

But here's what I've learned through my short years of motherhood.  Most kids are fickle eaters and they go through phases (usually fairly quickly!) of what they like and don't like.  For instance, one night Finley ate 10 spears of asparagus with her dinner.  I was so proud, pretty much ecstatic really, that I had a toddler who loved a green veggie besides canned green beans!  I marched to Costco the next day and bought the 6-lb bag of asparagus only to come home to a toddler who adamantly refused to eat. a. single. bite. of. asparagus. ever. again.

And this is why I am a firm believer of offering tasty, fresh vegetables at every meal (because sometimes Fin surprises me and eats her carrots or broccoli) BUT also hiding vegetables in meals wherever I can.  I mean, really what is the harm in packing more vegetables into a meal?  It's healthier all the way around!  This is a spaghetti sauce recipe I created when Fin was going through her 'I-only-want-to-eat-pasta-and-ice-cream' phase.  We enjoy the sauce so much, it's now the only meat sauce I ever make anymore.  It's jam packed with vegetables (onion, tomatoes, bell pepper, mushrooms, carrots, celery, zucchini and squash) so it's healthy and tasty.  When I make this spaghetti, I can rest easy because if Finley refuses to eat any of her vegetable side dishes that night, I don't have to worry since she ate some of the dreaded veggies without even knowing it.  And that makes me happy :-)

This recipe makes enough for about 10-12 servings.  I always make the full recipe - I serve it for dinner and then divide the leftovers into two or three large ziplock bags and throw them in the freezer for another night. Also, if you need to clean out your veggie drawer, feel free to throw in any other vegetables too!

Sneaky Spaghetti Sauce
a Baking and Eggs original

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 white onion, chopped
2 large carrots, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
4-8 oz fresh mushrooms, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 zucchini, shredded
1 yellow squash, shredded
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1/2 cup red wine (or substitute with more beef stock)
1/2 beef stock
1 lb Italian sausage or Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1 lb ground beef or ground bison
2 29-oz cans tomato sauce (not spaghetti sauce)
1 14.5-oz fire-roasted diced tomatoes with garlic, drained
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus more for serving (omit if you're dairy free)
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper, to taste
1 small can tomato paste
cooked spaghetti noodles, for serving

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add bell pepper, onion, carrots, and celery.  Cook, stirring often, until onion becomes translucent.  Add mushrooms, garlic, zucchini, squash, basil, fennel seed, oregano and rosemary and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Stir in wine and beef stock and let simmer while the meat cooks.

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan cook Italian sausage and ground beef over medium heat, breaking up any big lumps, until meat is browned.  Drain fat.  Add meat to vegetable mixture.

Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, parmesan cheese, bay leaves, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper.  Stir well to combine.  Cover and lower heat to medium-low.  Cook, stirring every 10 minutes or so, for at least one hour.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.  About 20 minutes before serving, stir in tomato paste if the sauce is too watery.  Continue to cook sauce over medium-low heat until ready to eat.  Serve over cooked noodles and sprinkle with extra parmesan.


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