Ask Ottolenghi: Meals to suit children and adults alike | Food

What would you cook for kids that’s good for the grownups to eat later?
Doug, Auckland, New Zealand

Ah, the million-dollar question, and one that, if we could resolve it in just a few short paragraphs, would be quite the result. But let’s try.

Your assumption, I think, is that children like simpler food than adults do, particularly younger kids, which is arguable , but to that end you can go one of two ways. The first is to make something that everyone likes, and the other is to come up with a child-friendly dish and dial it up later for the adult’s second sitting.

The first is easier said than done, but in my experience anything carb-focused or covered in cheese tends to go down well with children. Gnocchi alla Romana, for example, ticks both those boxes pretty decisively. Pizza is another obvious winner, because you can jazz up the toppings as much or as little as everyone wants, then bake half for the kids and the rest later, to have with a glass of wine. Dishes that feature something sweet are also pretty reliable – chicken marbella with juicy, plump dates, say – as is anything with coconut milk or cream. Likewise, anything fried (pea fritters, chicken schnitzel, all sorts of meat patties and meatballs, many of which are also delicious at room temperature, for those eating later) or especially smooth and unlumpy: olive oil mash, for example, or sweet potato mash.

Sticking with those examples (which are all taken from my book Simple, if you happen to have it), let’s now look at the second approach. Take the two mashes. Both have an aromatic topping that, assuming it’s going to put the kids off, could easily be held back and added later. Similarly with the pea fritters, which are great just as they are, but add a soured cream dipping sauce with both fresh and dried mint and finely grated lemon zest, and suddenly it’s a dish for grownups. The gnocchi, as well: add a rich, chilli-spiked tomato sauce and, hey presto, the second sitting pretty much just made itself.

Then again, it may be more a case of setting aside a portion or two for the adults and keeping the kids’ meal more basic. I much prefer my soup to be on the chunky side, for example, with cubes of pumpkin or lentils, but it’ll probably be easier to sell to the children if it’s blitzed smooth. And always have plenty of condiments – shatta, zhoug, pesto, chilli sauces and quick pickles – that will brighten up a simple frittata or mac’n’cheese for those sitting down an hour or two later.

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