Rejection – It’s What’s for Dinner: Broccoli, Squash, and Basil Pasta Bake

Innumerable words have been written on the internet by mothers either lamenting their child’s poor eating habits:

“Timmy is such a picky eater – all he will eat are hot dogs and marshmallow fluff.  What can I do?”

Or extolling their child’s virtuous eating habits:

“Mary is such a good eater.  She asks for extra flax seeds on her quinoa porridge in the morning and kale smoothies are her favorite desert.  You know, she’s never even seen an m ‘n m.”

I love to cook and sitting down all together at the dinner table is an important ritual in our family.  While we eat we do “favorite part of the day” where we go around the table taking turns telling each other about our favorite parts of day.  Occasionally, someone has had a bad day and needs to vent a little and does, in Older’s  words, “worst favorite part of day”.  Well, I should say while some of us eat.  Please don’t call child services on me, but these days I would say that Older goes to bed without having eaten any dinner about half the time.  Older got a difficult start in life with food.  He had severe reflux and multiple food allergies (all outgrown – thank goodness).  Whether because of that, or due to his stubborn nature, he developed into a very picky eater.  We’ve never indulged his pickiness and I make dinner based upon what Husband and I like, what’s in season or in our garden, and how much time I have that night.  I love cooking, eating, and writing about food; and I will be sharing some of my favorite recipes here.  But I don’t want you to read these recipes, full of vegetables, and think “Her kids eat kale!  What’s her secret?”  I have no secrets.  What I have is an Older child who would prefer to live on fruit, plain carbs, and cheese (only melted and only cheddar though), a Middle child who will eat almost anything and herself some balsamic vinegar or some pickle relish but at dinner will sometimes follow her Older brother’s example and refuse to eat anything, and a Baby who eats mostly everything (except hard boiled egg yolks – she prefers to mash those into the couch or her car seat).    While I agree with the oft quoted food philosophy of Ellen Satter, (i.e., it is the parents job to make their children healthy food – not to “force” them to eat it), I disagree with her conclusion that “children will learn to eat what their parents eat”.  That, unfortunately, hasn’t been my experience.  But I really don’t care.  Usually Older doesn’t complain about dinner anymore, we sit and have a nice conversation as his food grows cold on his plate.  He clearly isn’t starving and eats a balanced enough diet the rest of the day.  I am sure some day he will eat vegetables again but until then I am not going to make food an issue in our house or a worry in my mind.  Besides, the less he eats, the more leftovers I have for lunch the next day.

Last night I tired a new version of macaroni and cheese.  A friend of mine sent me a link to this broccoli basil macaroni and cheese.  It looked promising, but I wasn’t too keen on making a cheese sauce using leftover pasta water so I took a number of liberties with the recipe and ended up with this:

Broccoli, Squash, and Basil Pasta Bake

Notes:  Makes enough for two dinners of six servings each.  I divided the recipe into two equal halves and baked one and froze the other (unbaked) for a later dinner.


*Olive oil

*Small onion (I think leeks would be divine, but I didn’t have any on hand), small dice

*2 ribs celery, small dice

*4 Tablespoons unsalted butter

*4 Tablespoons flour

*1 1/2 cups milk (Please, for the love of god, don’t use skim milk)

*8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated

*8 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated

*1 1/2 teaspoons salt

*1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

*1 cup of winter squash puree (this could be from any winter squash: butternut, pumpkin, etc. that you have peeled and either steamed or baked and then pureed or you can just use a cup of canned pumpkin)

*1 1/2 pounds of dried pasta (I used small shells)

*2 heads of broccoli, roughly chopped

*4 slices of stale or toasted bread

*1 bunch of basil leaves


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook the pasta in a large pot only until pasta is just al dente (still firm); about 8 – 10 minutes.  The pasta will cook further when it is baked.  Drain and rinse the pasta in cool water and set aside.
  3. While the pasta cooks, saute the onions and celery in the olive oil until translucent and just starting to brown.  Set aside.
  4. While the pasta and onions and celery cook, melt the butter in a large saucepan.  After the butter is fully melted and is bubbling, add the flour, and whisk until until no lumps remain.  Cook the flour for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently.  The butter flour mixture should be bubbling, but not burning.   This is a roux.  Add the milk to the roux whisking constantly until the mixture begins to feel thick like pudding (about five minutes).  Reduce the heat to low and then stir in the cheeses, squash puree, salt, and pepper until smooth.  Remove from heat.
  5. Combine the pasta, the onion and celery mixture, half the broccoli, and the cheese mixture until homogenous.  Divide into two casserole dishes and set aside.
  6. Combine the remaining half of the broccoli, the bread slices, and the basil in the food processor and pulse until mixture is a fine crumb.
  7. Top each casserole dish with half the bread crumb mixture.
  8. Bake, uncovered for 30 minutes or freeze or later use.

4 thoughts on “Rejection – It’s What’s for Dinner: Broccoli, Squash, and Basil Pasta Bake

  1. First, thanks for the comment on my blog (House of Peanut)! I’m not sure if I know you in real life or not, but so far I love what I read here.

    I don’t need extra drama in my life, nor do I want to be a short order cook, so I very much follow Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility. My big girl can decide if she wants to eat or not (and like yours, she eats enough the rest of the day that if she skips the main course at dinner, i’m not worried). Baby is just working on feeding herself and sorting that out. What she doesn’t like goes on the floor, and we have dogs, so that’s easy to deal with.

    I’m lucky that neither girl is having a weight gain issue, because THAT would be super stressful with the picky eating.

    • Our neighbor’s dog seems to sense when dinner is done at our house and if the door is open she [the dog] invites herself in to clean-up under the dining room table. It’s a nice arrangement.

  2. As the aforementioned friend o’ recommendations, I should have probably mentioned that while I loved this, both of my children asked me to painstakingly remove each micron of “eww green stuff” from this dish. But I choose to believe that they got some veggies via osmosis. (Also, I refused to perform green-stuff-removal, instead crafting a tale of how this was the food of superheros and eking a single bite out of each child.)

    • It is comforting to know that your kids can be similarly fastidious about vegetables in their food. I used the super hero line on Older once and he told me that he didn’t want to be a superhero anyway. Why must they be so difficult?

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