Cooking with kids #1 – Puttanesca

Groucho has declared she’s  vegetarian. We should have seen it coming. For years now it’s been pointless buying her a Lindt chocolate bunny at Easter because she refuses to nibble its face off.

She is, however,  still going to eat fish. Apparently, they’re not really animals.

You might think this is going to cause some problems – but not really. Khaleesi and I have long been resigned to cooking several different dishes at mealtimes because the only thing that meets with universal approval from the kids starts with Mac and ends with Donalds.

But with a (fish-eating) veggie in the house, I will have to be on the lookout for new recipes. So when I spotted a video on the BBC website on cooking the perfect puttanesca, I thought: Ah Ha!

Weekends at Chez Dad Dancer are a little different from normal households because Khaleesi and I are both shift workers. Khaleesi is a nurse and on this particular Sunday she’s finished a night shift so she’s tucked up in bed, snoring sleeping like a wart hog an angel. The whole parenting/cooking malarkey falls to me.

So far it’s going pretty well.  I’ve taken Groucho to a nearby dinghy sailing club – all part of Project Get Your Arse Off The Sofa And Do Something Active Instead (more of that in a future blog).  I’ve also managed to dump about three tonnes of rabbit crap at the tip (We have rabbits – don’t get me started on rabbits!) And I’ve managed to pick up all the ingredients for the puttanesca on the way home. For once I’m feeling like a moderately competent parent.

No relaxing Sunday afternoon would be complete without a 40-mile round trip taking Number Two and Tinkerbell to their gymnastics class. I know for a fact they’re going to take one look at the puttanesca and start gagging but I manage to strike a deal with Groucho.  In return for  unfettered access to her tablet/the computer while I’m gone, she will prepare a couple of home-made pizza bases for the little-uns.

It’s at this point it all starts to unravel. I return home to discover she’s made enough dough to make a pizza the size of a digestive biscuit and the flour she’s used has got seeds in it. I gently explain that we might have to make another batch –  which precipitates a thermonuclear explosion of rage and sends her stomping off to her bedroom.

As is often the case with teenagers (I am fast learning) she returns 10 minutes later, all sweetness and light, as if the whole door slamming, stomping off up the stairs episode was a figment of my imagination.

Khaleesi has by now woken and is lying on the sofa, clearly intending to watch back to back episodes of Horrible Histories for the next three hours. Groucho decides to help me in the kitchen and soon comes up with a completely different menu choice from the new Mary Berry cookbook she had for her birthday. I nervously explain to Groucho that Tapenade is not a main course – and to my surprise she seems to accept this, especially when I suggest that Tapenade would make an excellent starter ahead of the perfect puttanesca I’m preparing.

Of course we have none of the ingredients for Tapenade, so I’m despatched to the shops while she gets to work on the new batch of pizza dough.  I return to discover she’s not made much progress beyond locating a bag of flour – so I do it myself – then finally make a start on the perfect puttanesca. I prop my iPad up on the work surface and start playing the video.

The narrator, it turns out, is a lady called Anna del Conte – an Italian version of Mary Berry, only about 100 years older. She begins by explaining the origin of the name puttanesca.

“…alla puttanesca means the way the prostitutes would cook it, which is fiery, hot and – I don’t know – juicy maybe…”

Jesus H Christ! I sprint across the kitchen, faster than you can say Mamma Mia, to silence her.

Too late – Groucho’s curiosity has already been aroused – so now, not only do I have prepare the pizzas and perfect puttanesca but I’m also having to explain to a just turned 13-year-old what a prostitute is. Who would have thought it? The old lady looks like the perfect grandmother – but turns out to be raunchier than Nigella Lawson on heat.

I manage to swipe forward the video and thankfully the geriatric Italian with the dirty mouth starts to focus on the job of cooking. But I soon discover that cooking from a video is not easy – especially when it transpires the video makers have edited the entire cooking process down to about 30 seconds. The instructions are coming thick and fast.

I have to repeatedly pause the video while I scramble around the kitchen, frantically emptying cupboards in search of elusive ingredients. Number Two and Tinkerbell keep popping their heads round the door, demanding to know when the pizzas will be ready. The half-made puttanesca sauce has by now been bubbling away to nothingness for 20 minutes in the frying pan. I unpause the video to hear the next tip: “Leave it to cook for only two or three minutes.” Somehow I manage to miss out the bit about adding some black olives, which are one of the key ingredients.

By the time the various meals are finally ready, it looks like Armageddon has struck in the kitchen. Every drawer and cupboard door is open, the tiles look like someone has been recreating a Jackson Pollock painting with pasta sauce.

I serve up and soon Khaleesi is cooing over Groucho’s Tapenade which apparently is the best thing she’s ever tasted .

And the puttanesca? I enquire optimistically.

“A bit salty”

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