When it comes to food the kids can be a challenge. By that I mean fussy, contrary and downright infuriating. Food they gleefully tucked into with abandon one week, proclaiming it to be the best thing ever, is approached as if it were the rotting corpse of a weasel the next. Then there’s the usual kid cliches of not being able to tolerate different food groups touching or an aversion to anything with sauce. And for almost a year I’m pretty sure my youngest only ate white carbs.
But it wasn’t always like this. Both our children were brought up using baby lead weaning which, we were led to believe, would help them develop into little epicurean delights sampling anything and everything. For a while it was true. On a trip to France our eldest (then two) ate wild boar, duck gizzards, mussels, squid, aioli, olives, radishes, artichokes and, well, pretty much whatever we put in front of her face. As foodie parents we delighted in telling anybody that would listen how amazed we were at the success of baby lead weaning, how smug/proud (it’s a fine line) we must have seemed. But then it all changed. The children developed the ability to say no (and quite possibly a palate) and since then the selection of food they will eat has dwindled down to the following (fairly uninspiring) dishes:
- Pizza (every day if allowed, which it isn’t)
- Spaghetti bolognese*
- Roast chicken
- School canteen ‘sticky chicken’**
- Omelettes/scrambled/boiled eggs
- Cheese sandwiches
- Fish and chips
- Lentils ***
- Some fruit and vegetables (thankfully)
* Has a tendency to slip in and out of favour depending on which way the wind is blowing.
** Seven year old can not adequately describe the taste/texture. As a result this can not be replicated at home.
*** Only eaten by the youngest and only if we refer to them as ‘tiny beans’.
It’s difficult to find something they will eat which is both interesting to cook and exciting for the adults to eat. But then, a few weeks ago, something happened. The eldest came home and said that she’d eaten patatas bravas at school. It wasn’t authentic patatas bravas, but a kid friendly version with plain tomato sauce, which she said was similar to the sauce I make for homemade pizza. I sensed a tiny opportunity to expand the kids dinner repertoire, and so an idea was born: Family friendly tapas night.
It makes use of “The Family Dinner Formula”, which is a method we often try to apply when making dinner and should ideally consist of:
- Only one element that is made from scratch (in this case pork skewers);
- Something that has been batch cooked or made ahead (patatas bravas, bean stew, tortilla); and
- Something super easy (Manchego and Spanish charcuterie).
Rarely has a meal been given such rapturous approval by the kids, repeatedly claiming it was the best meal ever and asking when they could have it again. That was Friday, the wind has changed since then, and who knows what response the next family friendly tapas night will elicit.
For the tortilla
7 beaten eggs (with a splash of water) and salt and pepper
500g small potatoes
For the pork skewers:
1 pork tenderloin cut into 2-2.5 cm chunks
½ tsp Ground cumin
½ tsp Paprika
Salt and pepper
For the bean stew
Tin of white beans (butter or haricot)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
third of a chorizo ring cut into 1cm thick semi circles
1 tsp paprika
Salt and pepper
For the patatas bravas
500g red potatoes
1 tin of plum tomatoes
3-4 garlic cloves (peeled and crushed)
a generous pinch of salt
a generous pinch of sugar
The day before (or over the course of a few days/weeks, your freezer is your friend here) make the tortilla, pork skewer marinade, bean stew sauce, tomato sauce and par-roasted potatoes. It’s better to do the prep when you have plenty of time. Individually they don’t take long and you want family friendly tapas night to be just a case of (mostly) warming things through.
Slice the onion in half and then slice finely. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl with a splash of water and salt and pepper. Cut the potatoes in half or into thick slices depending on the size of your potatoes then par boil in salted water, drain and leave to cool a little. I accept that a lot of traditional Spanish tortilla recipes do not do this and that you are supposed to cook the potatoes in lots of oil but I’ve never found this method particularly satisfactory. Whilst the potatoes are par boiling slowly fry the onions in olive oil for about 20 mins. Drain and set aside. When par boiled, drain and then slowly fry the potatoes in oil until they start to go golden. Drain the potatoes and then add them to that egg mixture with the cooked onion. Pour the mixture back into the pan on medium heat trying to spread things about evenly. Cook until the egg starts to set around the edges and then transfer the pan (preferably one that can withstand a moderate temperature) to the oven (180°C) until the tortilla moves around freely when you gently shake the pan.
For the patatas bravas sauce
I make this sauce in batches (adapted from a recipe in the mighty Il Cucchiaio D’Argento or Silver Spoon) as it serves as a perfect base for many meals. Add all the ingredients to a pan, cover and put on the lowest heat for 30 mins. Do not stir it. After 30 mins remove the lid and mash up ingredients with a spoon. Continue cooking with the lid on for 15 mins or until the contents look somewhere between passata and puree in thickness. Allow to cool then add a good glug of olive oil.
For the patatas bravas
Peel and cut the potatoes into 3 cm chunks, par boil in salty water and then steam dry in a colander. Coat in olive oil then add to the oven (220°C) for about 30-40 mins until golden. Remove from the oven and drain, allow to cool, cover and put in the fridge.
For the pork skewer marinade.
Add all the ingredients to the bowl, cover and leave in fridge overnight.
For the bean stew sauce.
Add a good glug of olive oil to a pan on low, after a while add the chopped veg and sweat for a good 10-15 mins making sure not to brown them. Add the paprika and chorizo, stir for a few minutes and then add the water. Bring to the boil then simmer until you have a nice thick sauce.
On the day soak some wooden skewers in water for a few hours. Once soaked thread the pork onto the skewers. Cook them under the grill, turning occasionally until done. Whilst the pork is cooking re-roast the potatoes for 10-15 mins and gently heat up the tomato sauce. Also heat up the bean stew sauce, adding the beans about 10 mins before you are due to serve, season to taste. Heat the tortilla in a frying pan, top the roast potatoes with the sauce and serve everything with a plate of sliced Manchego and the Spanish ham of your choosing.
Some ingredients adapted from the wonderful Brindisi: The True Food of Spain.