The No-Cheese, No-Sauce Pasta Amanda Hesser & Her Kids Eat on Repeat

It's in the running for best pantry pasta ever.

August 28, 2019

Welcome to More Ketchup, Please, our newest series that’s spilling the beans on all the different ways we cook for, and with, our kids. We've got some great guests stopping by, to get schooled by their little ones on how to perfect family favorites. The more (cooks) the merrier? We think so.

If it surprises you how self-sufficient Amanda Hesser’s 12-year-old twins Walker and Addison are in the kitchen, then you probably haven’t read Cooking for Mr. Latte. The 2003 cookbook with memoir is an account of how her husband went from being a man with an empty refrigerator when they first met, to a pasta-making supremo after they had kids. If you have read Mr. Latte, then it’d be perfectly logical to expect this love of food and fearless cooking from her kids, whose starter lessons in the kitchen began when they were little.

As extra small humans, they’d hang around the kitchen as their mother cooked, sampling their way through. (Amanda’s own adventures with feeding herself began with Gaines Burgers dog food, age 3.)

“When they were really young,” Amanda says, “I would have unreasonable expectations for how neat children should be in the kitchen. I was like, ‘What? You don't understand dipping and sweeping?’” Now, she says, she’s more likely to meet them where they are.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“For one big child's portion: Cook pasta (2-3 oz) 2 minutes past al dente, drain, dump into a bowl with salted butter (~1TB, we love Kerrygold) and a generous teaspoon of Maggi seasoning. Toss and serve immediately. She LOVES this dinner and would probably eat it every day if we let her ;)”
— HalfPint

This year, the twins have started making their own lunches, which means Amanda’s days of making ambitious kids’ meals and chronicling them are done (unfortunately for us). “You’ve gone from watching us cook to sitting at the kitchen table, and letting us ask you questions,” Addison says to her mom.

This fragrant pasta with preserved tuna, adapted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, is a repeat offender.

“It was something that we posted on the site, and caught my eye, so I started making it, and everyone really liked it,” says Amanda. “When it came time for them to learn how to make lunches, it seemed like a natural choice because it's straightforward, and has all the ingredients that they love.” (Minus the preserved lemon, which they’ve since eliminated.)

“Maybe we can make sushi next,” says Walker.

“I’d try,” says Addison.

What's the one thing (or many) that you like to cook with your kids? Tell us in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.


linda March 31, 2020
Young engaging professionals!
Fantastic video!
What a team!!!
In these times this video speaks normal and comfort.
Thank you!
Arthur J. October 8, 2019
Cuisine for the adorable
Lisa September 23, 2019
What a wonderful video! Job well done mom, great kids!
ketzynurse September 8, 2019
Great recipe! Can't wait to try it. I have always encouraged my children to cook with me, as I did with my mother and grandmother. I have raised sons who are wonderful cooks in their own right. I'm so glad to see other mothers instill the love of cooking into their children.
Ilse September 8, 2019
What's the brand of tuna they used? Thanks.
Gari September 8, 2019
You get my vote! I never eat cheese, so what a welcome to see this. But like others, i question the title....your tuna mix is a sauce, but so light, I will keep it in my "stash" of recipes...might sound odd but I substituted sunflower seeds for pine nuts and it was very tasty.
Nancy L. September 8, 2019
We make something very similar, but add a can of artichoke hearts, quartered. It is my dinner in ten minutes when I have no energy to cook dinner and we got home late special.
Sandra S. September 6, 2019
"Preserved tuna"? Is that what we're calling canned tuna these days??

When I was a kid (and a fussy eater, although not in the typical kid way), I liked tuna, noodles, and cottage cheese mixed together (while my mom preferred tuna, noodles, and sour cream). But I strongly prefer tuna (preferably solid white) packed in water, not oil, because the stuff packed in oil tends to "repeat" on me.
Arati M. September 6, 2019
Tuna, noodles, and cottage cheese? Sounds intriguing. Was it like a casserole?
Sandra S. September 6, 2019
Nope - just cook up the noodles, drain them, put them in a bowl, and add the tuna and cottage. That's it!
d W. August 31, 2019
I took advantage of living in Europe for 7 years when I was in the Army. I learned to cook in a number of see, I bought the cookbooks in the languages...German, Danish, Italian, French, etc. When I traveled to various countries, I didn't do the tourist route, I blended in with the people.
This recipe is a typical meal that one would find in a home...not an American version. Oil. cheese, seasoning, vegetables, pasta...these are parts of a dish. Sauces not so much. It is good to see authentic things. I am not surprised kids like it. True tastes taste good.
HalfPint August 29, 2019
My daughter, unfortunately, is at an age where she will only eat a finite number of foods that in some way involves pasta or bread. I make a simple pasta & butter dish that she requests almost every day for dinner. For one big child's portion: Cook pasta (2-3 oz) 2 minutes past al dente, drain, dump into a bowl with salted butter (~1TB, we love Kerrygold) and a generous teaspoon of Maggi seasoning. Toss and serve immediately. She LOVES this dinner and would probably eat it every day if we let her ;)
Arati M. August 29, 2019
Ah well, you got to do what you got to do ;) Besides you're preaching to the converted—I grew up in India, where Maggi is practically religion. You know I'm totally going to try making this, and I'm...errr...a bit older than your daughter, presumably!
Linda S. September 9, 2019
When I was a child, my Catholic mom would serve fish on Friday. I didn't like fish at all so she would cook up probably Ronzoni spaghetti and I would eat it with butter and grated cheese. I would have lived on that if she would have let me.