Cooking for Clara: A Simple Pasta Sauce for Grownups and Babies

Merrill's baby Clara is finally old enough to eat solid foods. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, Merrill steps into the fray.

This week, it's all about texture.

Clara

Texture is a hot topic for the baby feeding crowd. Some believe that until your baby has a full set of teeth, you should only give her the softest of purees. Others say the fear of choking has been blown out of proportion.

>>RELATED: Check out our favorite puree, Carrots Cooked Forever.

Before we started Clara on solids, I saw this fascinating blog post about baby-led weaning, which shows a video of an 8-month-old (also named Clara) cheerfully feeding herself apple slices. We weren't sure about starting out by letting Clara feed herself entirely, but it gave us some ideas.

For the first few weeks, I pressed cottage cheese through a sieve so that she wouldn't struggle with the curds. Pretty soon, though, it was clear that she was developing a sort of half-chewing technique, mushing the cottage cheese around in her mouth before swallowing it. When I gave up the sieve Clara quickly and enthusiastically adjusted, curds and all.

>>RELATED: See our recipe for Homemade Fruit Yogurt -- perfect for kids

The same was true with the vegetables I cooked for her. I went from pushing slow-cooked carrots through a sieve to mashing them roughly with a potato masher, and Clara seemed to like the challenge of gumming the veggies now that they had a little more heft.

The real payoff, however, came when we moved onto meat.

If you haven't pureed cooked meat before, I don't recommend it. Basically, you end up with cat food. But ground meat can be browned and simmered slowly with a little olive oil, garlic and plain stock or water for a baby with a few weeks of eating under her belt. A couple of important guidelines:

  • Make sure to break up any large chunks while you're browning the meat
  • Use a cut that's not too lean (dark meat chicken rather than light, chuck rather than sirloin) so that it gets tender as it cooks, rather than tough

Recently I added tomatoes to the mix, and Clara had her first Bolognese. Because we didn't need to puree it, we were able to enjoy the Bolognese with rigatoni, while she ate it with pastine (those adorable little pasta stars you're always looking for an excuse to buy).

>>RELATED: See our recipes for 9 Weeknight Pastas.

Here's the recipe:

Bolognese

A Simple Bolognese for Grownups and Babies

Serves 4 as a main course, baby for several days

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef (I prefer 85% lean -- you can also use lamb, chicken, turkey or pork)
  • Pinch salt (optional)
  • 1 fat garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 28 ounces canned peeled tomatoes

1. Heat a deep, heavy saucepan over a medium-high flame. When the pan is hot, add the oil, and then the meat and the salt if using. Brown the meat well, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, about 4 to 5 minutes.

2. Once the meat is browned, lower the heat to medium-low and add the garlic. Cook for a minute or two, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant and just starts to turn golden.

3. Add the tomatoes and their juices and crush them gently with a potato masher or the back of your spoon. When the sauce starts to boil, turn the heat to low so it's just simmering, and cover the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is very tender, the tomatoes have broken down, and the sauce has thickened, about 2 hours (longer if you have the time). Let it cool slightly, and serve with pastine or couscous.

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