Welcome to Gamer Week, in which The Takeout will be celebrating the edible side of video games all week long.
Although my husband and I have been cooking professionally for a combined 30 years, our two children have spent most of their lives being picky eaters. Even worse, our boys seemingly collaborated on a scheme where each one’s list of acceptable foods overlaps not at all with the other. One loves meat, hates cheese, and has agreed to eat certain vegetables; the other despises meat, subsists almost exclusively on cheese, and might stab me with a carrot if I ever offer him one again. I have tried every imaginable tactic—reverse psychology, subliminal messaging, cash bribes—and almost none of them have worked. But I have managed to win a few battles through clever trickery. This soup recipe is one such victory.
Both of our sons have been crazy about video game culture since kindergarten, and aside from Minecraft and Fortnite—which all children under the age of 14 are legally required to play—they’re huge fans of the Nintendo canon A-listers: Link, Kirby, that badass chick from Metroid, and, of course, every single member of the expanded Super Mario universe. Like Mario, I am an Italian-American from Brooklyn, which has gotten me a tiny bit of clout with the kids, and convinced them that my tomato sauce is trustworthy. In fact, pasta and sauce was one of the few dishes I could convince both of them to eat as small children. Then one day, it hit me: I could use all these facts to my advantage.
Since my children respect Mario’s opinions more than mine, maybe they’d be open to eating what he eats: stars, mushrooms, and fire flowers. I turned my tried-and-true tomato sauce into an extra-garlicky tomato soup, added star-shaped stelline pasta, and served it with sauteed mushrooms and slightly firey fried artichokes, which are flowers in the thistle family. And it worked! Did it convince them to eat mushrooms and artichokes independently of Mario Soup? Of course it didn’t! But getting both of them to accept at least one dish with vegetables was enough of a win to make me feel like I was the smartest parent on earth, and they’ve been falling for my soupy manipulations for the last seven years. Maybe this recipe will work on your kids. If it doesn’t—or if you’re not engaged in a battle of wills with a child—you’ll have no problem eating this on your own, because mamma mia, eetza goodah.
- 1 (12-oz.) box stelline star-shaped pasta (Don’t worry too much about the measurement on the box; you can add more or less pasta if you’d like)
- 1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 1 head of garlic, minced
- 2 (28-oz.) cans crushed or whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 (12-oz.) bag frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
- 8 oz. mushrooms, any type you like
- 1/2 cup flour
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Cayenne pepper (optional)
Coat the bottom of a Dutch oven or large soup pot with a thick slick of olive oil, add the onions with a big pinch of salt, and cook over high heat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, reduce heat to medium, and cook for another 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden.
Add both cans of tomatoes, then fill the cans to the brim with tap water and pour into the pot. Increase the heat to high, add the oregano and another big pinch of salt, then use an immersion blender to thoroughly puree the soup. Partially cover with a lid and cook until the pot begins to bubble. Reduce the heat to low, give the soup a good stir, and taste for seasoning, adding more salt or oregano as desired. Replace the lid, cracking it slightly so steam can escape, and simmer gently while you make the vegetables.
Fill a saute pan with about 1/4" of olive oil and set over medium-high heat. Put the thawed artichokes into a clean kitchen towel or a few layers of paper towels and gently squeeze to remove excess moisture. Add the flour to a large bowl with a pinch of salt and, if you wish, cayenne pepper (the amount of spiciness is up to you), then add the artichoke hearts and toss well to coat. Beginning with the largest pieces of artichoke, shake off any excess flour before dropping the artichokes into the oil. Fry in batches until golden, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove the artichokes to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Once all the large pieces have been fried off, dump the contents of the bowl into a small strainer to help shake extra flour off the small, delicate pieces, then add them to the pan all at once and fry, stirring occasionally, until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and move to the plate.
For the mushrooms, you can prep them any way you’d like: whole, sliced, cut into fat chunks, whatever. Just make sure you clean them first with a damp paper towel to remove any dirt. Add the mushrooms to the hot saute pan with a big pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until all their moisture evaporates and they’re beautifully brown—depending on how you cut them, this will take between 5-10 minutes.
While the mushrooms are cooking, uncover the soup and stir in the stelline, then raise the heat to medium-high and cook for 7-10 minutes until the pasta is cooked through. Taste again for seasoning, then ladle into bowls, top with mushrooms, artichokes, and some grated cheese, if you like.
Note: If your kids complain that they “can’t see the stars” because they’re covered in soup, cook 1/4 cup of the stelline separately in salted water, drain, stir in a tiny bit of olive oil and spoon on top of the soup. Yes, it’s annoying, but if it guarantees a dinnertime without whining, it’s worth it.