My granddaughter, Ciara, will turn 11 in just a few weeks. She has been cooking with her mother, Carol, for many years. Carol is a good and dedicated home cook who has been having kitchen fun with her children for a long time. For years she has had a fish bowl on top of the refrigerator. The bowl is filled with little slips of paper labelled with countries of the world. Each week the kids draw a slip from the bowl, and the identified country becomes a project for the next week. Finding it on a map, identifying the capital on the web, reading about the geography and history all become assignments above and beyond the usual homework. The highlight of the whole week, though, is preparing a meal that is representative of the country. For places like France and Italy, that is easy, but Tajikistan, Cote d’Ivoire, and others present real challenges. After the menu is selected and recipes have been found from exotic cook books or Epicurious on-line, my daughter makes runs to the appropriate grocery stores or specialty shops to find the ingredients. One additional rule is that everyone has to eat at least three bites.
Sometimes the dinner falls flat, and everyone eats three bites and then looks for something else. More often than not, though, these foreign foods are a great success, and the children have had new eating experiences – no finicky eaters here! (or at least not too bad).
Holidays are other times for adventures in food. One of the biggest successes and now a tradition has been Halloween with ghost mashed potatoes, cooked fingers, bone snacks and other gory treats of the season. I shall report further with recipes for Halloween in a couple of weeks.
With as much fun as all of this in the kitchen, it is not a surprise that Ciara has developed an enthusiasm for cooking. So it seemed the expected thing when she decided on a cooking class as one of her electives for sixth grade. Be advised: this is not the home economics class of my days in high school. The class includes boys, and it focuses on good food without getting bogged down in the boring lessons on home canning, sauerkraut making, and cooking with three different kinds of condensed soup or flavored gelatin.
The following recipe is an example of this modern approach to teaching kids how to cook and how to think about good nutrition. It looks delicious and tastes good along with being easy to make.
The main stars of the dish are fresh bulk Italian sausage and orecchiette pasta. The pasta originally comes from Paglia, the region of Italy at the heel of the boot. The name means “little ears” because of the shape – which is perfect for holding some of the sauce. At least in big cities, orecchiette has become much easier to find, but if you can’t find it, don’t despair – any pasta with a lot of body will do.
ORECCHIETTE WITH ITALIAN SAUSAGE AND SUN-DRIED TOMATOES
1 lb bulk sweet Italian sausage
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
⅔ Cup heavy cream
½ Cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and finely chopped
8 Cups baby arugula, coarsely chopped
1 lb orecchiette
½ Cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ Cup fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper
- In a medium heavy skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage, stirring frequently to break up any large lumps. Transfer with a slotted spoon to several thicknesses of paper towel to drain.
- Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the cooking fat, return the skillet to the heat, and add the onions and garlic. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is browned and caramelized, about 12 minutes.
- Stir cream, sun-dried tomatoes, and sausage into the onion mixture, stirring until thickened, about 3 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and add the arugula, stirring until the greens are lightly wilted.
- While the sauce is cooking, boil the orecchiette in a large pot of boiling salted water for about 12 to 15 minutes or until the pasta is al dente.
- Drain the pasta, reserving one cup of the cooking water. Add the drained pasta to the sauce along with the Parmesan cheese. Mix to coat the pasta with the sauce, thinning if necessary with the reserved cooking water. Add the basil and serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6