So we’re in it. High summer with all of its promise and all of its chores. The bugs are completely out of control (imagine I used to think that grasshoppers were interesting; now I simply loathe them), and the powdery mildew is rampant. Maintaining the garden is a delicate balance. It would be easy to spend all day out there and have a neat garden with fewer pests and probably greater productivity. Well, I shouldn’t say it would be EASY because there is simply not time for me to be that kind of gardener, and my garden elves have an attention span of approximately 35 minutes for garden related chores. I can sometimes distract them for a while longer, but the fact is that distracting them from their boredom so that I can work is often as time consuming as simply changing course and doing something fun with them, like melting crayons between sheets of wax paper. Let’s face it, melting crayons is WAY more fun than stalking grasshoppers. And so, I get what I get from the garden. It is productive enough and (knocking on wood) it looks like I may get tomatoes this year, provided the squirrels let me keep them….
The gardening tricks don’t end at growth however, we must find ways to eat the lovely produce that we get from the garden. For me, this often means eating while I pick, but the kids are not always so easily enticed. And there are few of our glorious garden vegetables that have made it onto the “I will never, not ever eat a ______” list. Zucchini has taken up permanent residence on this list, despite my fabulous grated zucchini. This being high zucchini time for many gardeners in the U.S., there are many fabulous recipes that highlight this wonderful veg – accenting its natural deliciousness, mixing it with its natural flavor friends – tomatoes, eggplant, onions, garlic…. a quick Google search on the proud green squash and you will be overwhelmed with options. But I had a different goal: getting the zucchini in the little people without them knowing. Yes, I wanted to sneak in a zucchini. I am a fan of sneaking in for two reasons: 1) it allows me to get more veggies into my kids without the occasional drama that the “eat your vegetables” command can produce and 2) it provides me with the opportunity to inform them that they’ve eaten something on the black list of produce and didn’t realize they were eating it, and that they in fact enjoyed a much maligned veggie. HA! The simple joys of parenting.
And so… I messed with the queen mother of my daughter’s favorite dishes: Cheesy Noodles. I humbly bring you:
- 1 lb noodles (I used whole wheat)
- 1 zucchini
- 1/2c water
- 2 c soft cheese (I used this awesomeness)
- milk to blend (I used unsweetened almond)
- 2 T nutritional yeast (opt.)
- 1 t salt
- 1/2 t garlic powder
- 1 1/2 c unsweetened flake cereal/crackers/bread crumbs (opt)
- 1/2 c wheat germ (opt)
- 1t kelp flakes (opt)
Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease a casserole dish. For this little experiment, my kids chose gobettie (corkscrews) for this recipe (a little pretend democracy never hurts when trying a new recipe on them), but any thick noodle would work. Cook noodles according to package directions or your own tried and true. While waiting for water to boil/noodles to cook, assemble your sauce. Peel zucchini and put in powerful blender (in whatever size your blender is going to need) and add enough water to create a slurry. Blend until the zucchini is unrecognizable. Add chunks of the soft cheese, adding milk to create motion in the blender and a very thick, but still pourable sauce consistency. Add nutritional yeast if you like it, and salt if you’re not trying to avoid it. Add the garlic powder because it makes everything more awesome. Adjust spice and consistency to your tastes. When noodles are done, drain them. Pour half into greased dish. Add half of your cheese sauce. Pour the rest of the noodles in and cover with the remaining sauce. Do not scrape out the blender – you will use the cheese on the sides for the topping.
The Topping: Meausre the cereal and wheat germ into a bowl. Use a spoon to mash the cereal up a bit for easier eating. Add the scrapings from your sauce to give a little fat and damp to the crumb topping so it doesn’t burn and actually gets a little crunch going. Add to top of casserole. Bake in oven with rack in middle or just below (burned crumb topping is a buzzkill) for about a half an hour, or until it’s hot enough for you, or until the children come completely unglued. For me, these three seemed to coincide last night, a miracle of good time or simple coincidence.
We served ours with peas (peas are always served with cheesy noodles here) and fresh carrots. Little buggers had no idea they were also eating zucchini until I revealed that at lunch today. They were unphased; I’ve no idea if that means they’ll be open to zucchini, but I’m pretty sure I’ll keep it a secret again next time and slip that bugger in there. The dish was delish and if my zucchini plant produces the way it looks like it might, I’ll be sneaking those things in many suppers to come.