I’ve been serving family meals in a whole new way and it has completely changed the vibe at our dinner table: Dinner deconstructed. Give everyone their dish of seasoned or sauced pasta (or rice or whatever). Then place a big, colorful platter of toppings at the center of the table so everyone can build their own “perfect” dinner.
The change has been dramatic. The kids love it! We’ve watched in amazement as they dig into meals that were shunned the previous week when served the regular, all-mixed-together way. They’re sampling veggies they wouldn’t touch before. They try new sauces and actually ask for seconds. The whining has stopped. I’m not fuming over my plate as they pick every spec of some offending item from their dish. Dinner is fun again. And beautiful too!
Something about that big, gorgeous platter with a rainbow of color makes everything more appealing. They can’t help but dig right in.
The base for this meal was spaghetti tossed with my homemade asparagus pesto. Pesto is one of my favorite tricks for getting another serving of veggies into the kids. And when asparagus is in season it makes an irresistible pesto. Plus, I can prep my pesto in the morning, or during nap time (or even the night before), so dinnertime prep is a breeze — just cook and sauce your spaghetti, chop your veggies and serve.
Speaking of veggies, this dish is endlessly customizable. I love the combination of steamed asparagus, chopped, fresh baby spinach, baby tomatoes and garbanzos, but you could pile your platter with anything from chicken to pine nuts to edamame. Whatever you think will please those picky palates.
As the weather improves I can’t wait to apply this trick to everything from entree salads to tacos to breakfast bowls. Yummy!
Asparagus Pesto Pasta with Grab-Your-Own Veggies
Serves 4 – 6
1 bunch asparagus spears (about 1 lb), trimmed and chopped into 2-inch pieces
3 handfuls baby spinach leaves
1 large clove garlic, peeled
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for topping
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
1 lb. spaghetti, cooked to al dente
(all are optional & customizable)
Reserved asparagus pieces
1 cup canned garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup baby spinach leaves, chopped
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
- Boil salted water in a large, shallow pan and add asparagus, cooking for only 2-3 minutes, until asparagus are bright green and just barely tender. Reserve 1/4 cup of cooking water, then drain the asparagus and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Divide asparagus in half, reserving one half for serving.
- Place the remaining asparagus into a blender (or food processor) with the garlic, toasted pine nuts and baby spinach. Also add in the 1/4 cup of reserved cooking water and fire up the blender.
- Through the hole in the top, slowly pour in the olive oil and stop the blender occasionally to redistribute the mixture. After a few minutes, the sauce will be blended fine and full of amazing flavor. Add salt and pepper to taste. If not using immediately, cover sauce tightly and refrigerate.
- Just before mealtime, cook your spaghetti. While the water boils, prep your toppings and arrange them on a large platter to place at the dinner table. To serve, toss the pesto with cooked pasta, lemon juice and additional olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Give each diner a helping of pasta and encourage them to experiment with toppings as desired.