I noticed one student, a 1st grader with an adorable black bow in her hair, needed some help. It was a sunny afternoon in San Diego and I had flown out to this particular charter school ready to teach one of my favorite recipes of all time.
With one hand she tucked her fingers around the zucchini (a skill we teach) and with the other hand she used a metal dinner knife to chop the vegetable into bite-size pieces for our pasta dish. However, she wasn’t wasn’t holding the food correctly.
Some students tend to hold the vegetable with one hand on the far end as they chop the opposite end. It seems safer because their hand is farther away from the knife, but it actually makes it more difficult to chop efficiently and with stability.
I walked over and gently corrected her technique.
“I want you to your opposite hand closer to the knife. It helps you hold down the vegetable so it doesn’t move. Then make a clean cut so it’s in bite-size pieces.”
The young girl, carefully moved her hand closer to the knife. (It’s a metal dinner knife, so it’s near impossible for someone to cut themselves with it and in 11 years this has NEVER happened)
I could see that she was now deeply focused on the zucchini. She made one chop and I could see her confidence grow. She chopped it a few more times until it was in perfect, bite-size pieces. She gave me a big smile.
“That’s it!” I said, “Now keep doing that as we chop the bell pepper and onion slices.”
I moved around the room and helped the other students chop. With 20 kids in a workshop, you can chop vegetables very efficiently!
All of this work was to create a recipe we have taught to over 10,000 students.
It’s a dish where each each portion has 2 servings of vegetables.
It’s also delicious, healthy and quite easy to make.
It’s “Pasta Primavera”
More Than Just A Cooking Class
Each lesson we teach dives into several components of each dish: Culture, Nutrition and Culinary Techniques
Culture: Primavera means “Spring” in Italian. Typically, this pasta dish is made with spring vegetables, but you can use any vegetables that are ripe and in season. We like to use zucchini, bell peppers, peas and onion, but you can also add asparagus, broccoli, yellow squash and much more.
The Healthy Homemade vs Restaurant Version: In a restaurant, Pasta Primavera will often have heavy cream in it. Heavy cream adds a lot of flavor and fat, but also more calories. Our version has a special sauce that uses a roux (which is a fusion of olive oil and flour to help thicken a sauce) combined with vegetable broth and some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. It adds creaminess without a lot of calories and tastes great.
Nutrition: Zucchini (which means “little squash” in Italian) is full of vitamins, but in this lesson we focused on three vitamins:
Vitamin A, which is good for your sight and vision.
Vitamin C, which is good for your immune system.
Vitamin K, which is good for your blood so that it clots when you get a cut
Elementary students tend to grasp a few of these nutrition and cultural facts, while middle school and high school absorb everything very quickly
Culinary Techniques We Go Over:
- “Mise en plas,” which means “everything in place” so that all ingredients are neatly sorted before cooking begins
- Cutting Safety to ensure the chopping board is stable and doesn’t move
- Knife Handling so that students know how to properly hold a knife and tuck their fingers as they chop
- “Saute” which goes into how to chop vegetables and quickly cook them with a bit of oil so it’s healthy and flavorful.
- Seasoning, which is using salt to effectively bring out the flavors of your food.
Science and Math: Cooking naturally bring together other educational components such as fractions, the use of heat, solids vs liquid and much more!
How We Can Teach This Anywhere, Any Time
A core element of our mobile culinary classroom is the ability to not need a full kitchen!
We use an electric hot plate (you can see pictures and videos of it on this post) to teach “Benihana style” so the cooking process is brought in front of the students.
Here’s a question you’re probably thinking: How do you cook the pasta?
The main preparation behind this culinary lesson (and the vast majority of what we do) is that we:
- Prep all of the vegetables so they are washed and ready to go. We’ll grate the Parmesan as well and make sure everything is portioned out.
- Cook the pasta in advance (about 1 lb per workshop) using the electric hot plate. I’ll often cook 3 lb at a time, and after it has cooled down, I’ll portion them into individual bags. During class I can saute the vegetables, make the sauce and reheat the past in the sauce pretty quickly.
Three Phases: Chopping, Sauteing The Veggies, Making The Sauce and Serve!
Chopping: The first half of the class is focused on culinary rules and chopping the zucchini, bell pepper and onion. Students take turns sharing a cutting board with a small group to ensure everyone gets to participate. We also share our “trick” to make garlic easy to peel and chop.
Sauteing: When the cooking starts, we count off all students from 1-20. Numbers “1-4” come up and will add an ingredient to the hot plate such as 2 Tbs of olive oil, bell peppers, salt, pepper etc. Numbers “5-8” then come up and take turns stirring the vegetables for about 10 seconds each. We’ll continue with the rest of the students until everyone has participated.
Making The Sauce and Serving: There is a key part where we make the sauce and then finally put it all together. Eventually, we’re ready to eat! This is the magic moment when kids share things like “Wow this tastes good!” or funnier comments like, “I can barely taste the vegetables!”
Lastly, we assign some “culinary” homework, which is giving them a paper copy of the recipe so they can go home and cook it that weekend! Over 50% of our students actually cook it within a week of the class. I love hearing from school administrators how their child made Pasta Primavera and added new vegetables to the dish.
Teaching 100 Students In A Day!
Each culinary workshop is 1-hour and we teach anywhere from 3-4 in a day when we partner with a charter school. The lesson is about 50 minutes with a 10-minute reset between workshops. With each class able to accommodate 15-25 students, we can teach 60-100 students in a day! We’re all about helping as many students as we can, and we’ll often teach 2 full days of workshops with each school partner. Sometimes this is teaching 200 different students one recipe, or the same group of students two different recipes over two days.
What’s after Pasta Primavera?
One key element that students (and schools!) like is variety. After Pasta Primavera we like to explore other entrees and cuisines such as:
- Black Bean & Spinach Quesadilla with fresh pico de gallo
- Cauliflower Veggie Fried Rice
- Whole Wheat Grilled Cheese with Broccoli Slaw
- Crispy Chicken (and Eggplant) Nuggets with Mixed Green Salad
- Black Bean Veggie Sliders with Cabbage Slaw
- Healthy “Panda Express” Orange Chicken with Jasmine Rice
- Vegetarian Chili with Crispy Chips
- Healthy “Taco Bell” Beef Crunchwrap
How to Bring A Pasta Primavera Cooking Class To Your School
We offer in-person or virtual culinary workshops to our school partners. If you’d like your students to learn culinary fundamentals, develop independence and have a fun and engaging class experience, the next step is to email me at email@example.com or book a spot on my book a spot on my calendar (click here)
We even have a FREE culinary workshop promotion if you book a call with us before December 10th!
And how here’s the Pasta Primavera recipe for YOU to make at home.
“Primavera” means “spring” and this pasta highlights any produce in season. Also, it’s loaded with vitamin-rich vegetables and super kid-friendly…and did we mention that it tastes absolutely delicious?
Active Time: 40 min – Start to Finish: 40 min – Serves Family of Four
1 lb farfalle (bowtie) pasta
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
2 zucchinis chopped into bite-size pieces
1 red bell peppers, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
¼ cup Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup Parmesan, grated + extra for serving
1 cup vegetable stock
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and ground pepper
Cook your pasta until al dente in the boiling water. Drain and keep 1 cup pasta water.
In a large pan over medium-high heat add 2 Tbs olive oil, garlic, bell peppers, and onion and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add zucchini, peas and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally so all the vegetables are softened.
Make an open space in the middle of your pan. Add 2 Tbs flour and move it around for 1 minute. Add the vegetable stock, 1.5 tsp salt, pinch of pepper and mix all the vegetables together for 3-4 minutes, until the sauce has slightly thickened.
Add pasta, parsley, 1 cup Parmesan, salt and pepper and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve immediately and dream of spring!
To book a FREE healthy culinary workshop for your school, district, or college access program CLICK Here
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