As a professional triathlete, I spend a lot of time with my bike. In summer my bike and I disappear for hours-long rides; in winter, I set up the bike trainer and do those hours in my apartment. It’s not surprising then, that my two-year-old daughter Amy has been enamored with my bike since birth. The whirr of my indoor bike trainer lulled Amy to sleep when she was new and couldn’t settle. When she started crawling, she motored right for the pedals. Now that she's tall enough to reach them, the shifters and the chain and the seat all fascinate her.
But what she likes best is the wheels. She wants to spin them. She wants to unscrew the cap to let the air out of the tires, mostly so she can help me use the pump to re-inflate them.
It was her fascination with bike wheels that saved me the day she just decided she wasn't going to eat anything but raisins--ever. Searching the web for something to expand her repertoire, I found wagon wheel pasta on the Colavita site. I tossed the wheels with some leftover chopped steak, and hoped the enticing shape would overcome her commitment to eating nothing new.
When I set her bowl down on the tray of her high chair, she looked down, smiled and said "Mommy's wheels!" And then she ate every last one, without pausing to notice the pieces of meat that just so happened to be hidden in the spokes. When I don’t have leftover steak or chicken in the fridge, I’ll cook some ground meat or sausage.
Wagon Wheel Pasta
prep time: 10 minutes
cook time: 15 minutes
serves: 2 - 4 depending on the age and appetite
8 ounces wagon wheel pasta
1 cup frozen peas, broccoli florets cut into teeny pieces, or small carrot pieces
2 tablespoons Colavita olive oil, divided
½ pound ground turkey or bulk mild chicken/turkey sausage (not in casings)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
big hunk of Parmesan cheese
Cook the wagon wheels according to the package directions. A few minutes before the pasta is done, add your kids’ vegetable of choice to the pasta pot. Cook until crisp-tender, 1-2 minutes for peas, 2-3 minutes for broccoli, 3-4 minutes for carrots. While the pasta cooks, brown the meat or sausage.
To do so, heat a frying pan over high heat for 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and heat for another minute. Spread the ground turkey or sausage out in the pan and let it cook undisturbed until it starts to brown and releases from the bottom of the pan. (If it starts to smoke, lower the heat and/or remove the pan from the heat for a few seconds.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is no longer pink in the center. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to cool.
When the pasta and vegetables are done, drain in a colander and return the pasta to the pot. Over a low flame, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the butter. Stir to melt the butter and coat the pasta.
Spoon into bowls, then let your kid(s) help grate their own Parmesan cheese over the pasta: You hold the grater and they move the cheese. Make sure it’s a big enough hunk so that they can hold it without getting their fingers near the sharp grating holes.