A few years ago, I wrote about my philosophy regarding baby food. It's interesting to me now to reflect on how my attitude has changed with the arrival of a second son. These days I concentrate more on keeping food local than I do on finding organic. I no longer have the leisure to make it to the organic market every week or to seek out the nearest health food store which is half an hour away. But I can and do monitor where the apples at the supermarket come from and whether vegetables are in season. Because Little brother started eating solid food at the end of the summer instead of the beginning, I tend to use potatoes instead of rice cereal to thicken his food. He mostly eats vegetables, as only apples and bananas are consistently available through the winter months so this works fine.
And the biggest change is that I'm less worried about butter and salt and more intent on keeping my baby interested in food with flavor. I try to follow my mother's advice more often these days, which has always been "do not make special food for the baby; just purée what everyone else is having for dinner". I don't know if this will make for a less picky three year old second son - though I hope it will - but it certainly makes my life easier. Not long ago, I realized I had fallen into the trap of essentially making three meals every evening: for the baby, Big Brother and the parents. This was a situation that could not and should not continue. So now I tend to look for recipes that will please the three year old and his father. Now that Little Brother is one, there is little he can't eat and so it is also puréed for him. And Mom gets to relax in the evening instead of rushing around steaming vegetables, cooking pasta and then starting all over again for herself and the Critic.
When I saw this recipe in the Sunday Observer online, I (correctly) suspected I had found a winner. Three year olds don't like chewing tough meat. Neither does the Critic. Nor can the baby. So meatballs are a great option. And then - whoa, anchovies and lemon! Both the Critic and I are much more salt fiends than sweet lovers and I'm afraid our sons have inherited our preferences. So there was never any question about a few anchovies in the mix being a problem. Big brother loved it, the Critic loved it, Little brother liked the meat (but not so much the rice) and I loved being able to cook one tasty, reasonably healthy and very flavorful dinner for the family. Thank you, Nigel Slater.
Nigel Slater's Pork and Lemon Meatballs
(serves two adults and two small children, with leftovers for lunch the next day for the 3 year old - and he liked it the second time around too!)
3 slices of whole wheat bread, zapped in a food processor to make soft bread crumbs
4 large pork chops, large bits of fat and bone removed
a large handful of parsley leaves, chopped
2 tsp dried thyme (Nigel's recipe calls for 6 sprigs of fresh thyme, which are nicer if you have it on hand but if not dried worked just fine)
2 tbsp grated Parmesan
8 anchovy fillets, chopped
Optional: 1 tsp hot pepper flakes
2 tbsp olive oil
a little flour
about a cup of chicken stock
cooked rice for four
Nigel's recipe originally called for minced pork, but that is not very common in supermarkets and the nearest butcher is a fifteen minute walk away. However, if you have a good food processor it really doesn't matter. Zap the slices of bread and remove the crumbs to a large bowl. Then add the meat and process again, until you have a big lump of minced pork. Add it to the bowl with the breadcrumbs. Zest and juice the lemon and add both to the bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly.
Make 18 or so small meat balls and roll them in the flour. Flatten them slightly so that you'll have a surface which can brown nicely. Heat the oil and butter in a large frying pan and put in as many of the meatballs as you can without letting them touch one another. Cook on a medium high heat (they should sizzle) for 4-5 minutes, turning them once they become nice and brown and crusty. Then turn down the heat and continue to cook another 8 minutes or so, so that they are thoroughly cooked through. Remove the cooked balls to a warm plate and continue another batch and so on until all the meatballs are cooked. Put them back in the pan and add the chicken stock. Cook down for a few minutes to reduce the stock and warm through all the meatballs. Serve, with the sauce, over warm rice.
A note on the optional hot pepper flakes: I know my Critic and he definitely prefers his food to have a kick. So once I had made half the meatballs, I stirred in some hot pepper flakes for the adult portions of the dinner. I think it was a nice touch, not overpowering but adding something punchy to the mix. If you don't have small children - or do have children who like hot food - give it a try!
It isn't the most beautiful photo in the world, but this is in part a testament to how good the dish is: I really couldn't be bothered to find a good setting and play with the light while this delicious smelling dinner was cooling before my very eyes!