Eat Healthy, Speak Italian: NYC Kids Learn The Language of Pasta

Barilla invited me to spend a day in New York City at the International Culinary Center with kids in the “Eat Healthy, Speak Italian” workshop.

The workshop started with a video by Barilla, an Italian owned food company and the #1 pasta sold in America. Barilla believes “food is the key to your well-being”. They encourage cooking pasta with vegetables (think peppers, tomatoes, asparagus) and beans for more protein. They made a case for a “dual pyramid” eating more veggies, beans, and whole grains as more sustainable and better for the environment (than a meat heavy diet).

The chef didn’t waste any time getting started with the cooking.

Recipe #1 Pasta and Vegetables

The first recipe include whole wheat pasta (who hoo, more protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals — definitely go whole wheat as much as you can with pasta. It’s a simple way to get a boost of nutrition).

The vegetables included: onion, green and yellow zucchini, and yellow pepper.

The chef started with diced vegetables, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil. He sauteed these vegetables on a medium heat until sweating. Then he added pasta cooked to al dente.

He sauteed the pasta with the veggies for another five minutes and finished the dish with a bit of parmesean cheese. I could not believe how fast this dish was prepared.

Quick meal fix ideas: chop the veggies the night before and get dinner on the table in about 10 minutes.

Variations: Try adding red pepper flakes for a little “heat”. Add cannelini beans for extra protein and fiber. Add shrimp to get more protein.

Recipe #2: Gnocchi al Pesto (gnocchi with pesto sauce)

Mmm… I love gnocchi, but I have never made it myself. After watching it live, I could easily see how I could do this. The chef said the key is to work the dough a little bit, but not too much or it will be like gum (gross!).

To make the dough, he cooked potatoes and broke them down with a potato ricer. He added eggs and flour and “worked” the dough. (That’s the part I could see myself messing up).

You roll the dough in about a 1-inch log. Then cut into small pieces. Then use a fork to make the ridge marks. Those ridges are to hold extra sauce – who knew?

Clearly my description is not going to guide you on how to make your own gnocchi, but I found this awesome blog post that should do the trick: How to make gnocchi like an Italian grandmother - yes please!

Before boiling the gnocchi, we made the pesto using the traditional method — with a mortar and pestle. (That’s right, who needs stress management when you have a mortar and pestle? I’m buying a big one. Mine is teeny tiny for spices.) Three of the students donned chef hats add added the ingredients: basil, pine nuts, salt, and garlic. Then add pecorino cheese (a very salty hard goat cheese), olive oil, and pepper.

After the kids finished the pesto, the chef added gnocchi to the boiling water. It took a mere 2-3 minutes and they flew to the top of the pot. He removed the gnocchi and tossed hot with the pesto. It was delicious!

Family fun ideas: You could make a bunch of gnocchi ahead and freeze it. This is a great one to cook with the kids as well. Start ‘em early. Even three year olds can help by saying colors and words. The older they are, the more they can do.

Variations: Instead of pesto, you can try diced fresh (or canned, drained) tomato and sauteed garlic. I also think gnocchi and asparagus would go great together. Oh or how about spinach and garlic, or what about butternut squash and gnocchi. Options are endless.

If you think about it, it is really easy to get veggies in when you work with pasta. Sadly, 70% of Americans do not meet their daily fruit and vegetable needs. Most people get a measly 2 cups a day and we need about 6 cups. Next time you think about more ways of getting veggies, think about how veggies and whole grain pasta could come together for a quick and healthy meal.

Recipe #3 Making Fresh Pasta

The chef led student in making pasta from scratch. I have to admit there were a lot of steps involved. Not the kind of thing I’d do on a regular basis, especially with so many whole wheat pastas Barilla offers. However, I would do the gnocchi and homemade ravioli.

Once the kids rolled out the pasta, they made a filling with ricotta cheese, egg, and fresh herbs. The filling was rolled into little balls and layered between two sheets of fresh pasta. Then the kids cut the pasta into those familiar ravioli squares.

Then the ravioli was boiled in hot water until it floated up to the top.

The fresh pasta was blended with a fresh tomato sauce and we all dug in!

Kids Love to Cook

I have to say what I have observed so far is that these kids can speak Italian very well… and they LOVE to cook. They were eager to volunteer making pesto. They were very engaged in the demonstration and in learning the language. Knowledge is power

Using All Your Sense to Eat

Not sure if this is an Italian philosophy, but I like it. They encouraged the kids at each tasting that the proper way to taste pasta is to use your senses: guarda “look” — eat with your eyes. odora “smell” and assagiare “taste”. This is definitely the way to go whether you are eating an apple or a piece of cake. Paying attention while you eat allows you to savor and enjoy all the wonderful flavors in your food. Research also shows that mindful eating increases satisfaction. I believe it is a key to managing a healthy weight.

Thanks, Guys!

I thought this was a fun event. Yes, it is important for kids to learn to eat healthy and enjoy their veggies. It’s important to teach them cooking skills as well. These kids seemed to have a great time while feeding their bellies and improving their Italian! The instructors at International Culinary Center were wonderful. I couldn’t help but snap a shot with them before heading back to D.C.

Disclosure: Barilla compensated me for travel and attendance of the workshop.

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