Cooking School for Kids: The Three Course Meal

Today’s menu:
Caprese salad, skillet pasta, lemon sorbet

Today’s concepts:
one-pot meal, menu planning, balancing your ingredients

When my son was little, the idea of making and serving a three course meal at home fascinated him. “Can we do that at home sometime?”

Sure we can, kiddo. Here goes:

Job 1: Skillet Pasta

I love this recipe because it’s so, so, so simple. Build a sauce by warming some minced garlic in olive oil, then adding a large can of crushed tomatoes and other seasonings. Here’s the brilliant part: instead of boiling the pasta separately, add 28 oz of water and bring to a simmer, then add the pasta directly to the pan. Simmer 15-20 minutes, stir in a handful of cheese, and you’re DONE. No extra pot of boiling water, no draining a giant pot of pasta. And as an added bonus, the pasta absorbs the flavors of your sauce as it simmers. A couple of cheats:

  • You can use a jar of sauce in place of crushed tomatoes.
  • You can drop in add-ins (pepperonis, meatballs, chunks of sausage) with the pasta, it will cook in the sauce
  • The original recipe tops the dish with shredded mozz and bakes 5-10 min to brown it. I skip this by simply topping with mozz and putting a lid on it, and letting it sit with the heat turned off for 5 minutes.

Job 2: While the skillet is going, Caprese salad gave us an opportunity to practice knife skills, and learn a new trick – how to chiffonade basil. (Roll it up lengthwise, cut in 1/4″ intervals. You’ll end up with a pile of beautiful little basil ribbons.) When I asked them to arrange alternating tomato and mozzarella slices on their plates, most of the class went for the haute cuisine look – stacked straight up. One student wisely took into account the But How Do You Eat It? and went for artful but easy.

While the pasta was simmering, we began discussions on how to pick dishes for a multi-course meal. Everyone was familiar with the idea of appetizer, main course, and dessert, but then I asked, based on what we’ve already cooked in this series of lessons, what they would select for each slot?

One student immediately selected his greatest hits – cheesy garlic bread and pasta. Ooh, and souffle. Okay, I said, but let’s look at what you’re really serving: starch and fat (garlic bread), starch and fat (pasta), some starch, a little more fat (souffle). Where’s the veg? And then there’s also the time consideration.

While cheese and starch are all well and good, it can be overwhelming for three courses. If you finished off the meal with tiramisu, your guests would go into a starch-induced coma in record time. That is, if they made it that far – heavy app, heavy main, heavy dessert. So, we looked at our lunch:

Appetizer: caprese salad. A few slices of cool cheese and ripe tomato, with a little basil to keep it fresh. Not too heavy, but gets your appetite going.
Main course: skillet pasta. Hearty, warm, filling.
Dessert: A scoop of lemon sorbet. Good as a palate cleanser after a heavy, rich dish, and light enough to finish off the meal. I also figure since they’re cooking two out of three courses, they can take a shortcut on the last. (They also took teeny basil leaves to garnish the sorbet.)

I sent everyone home with a shopping bag that contained a jar of sauce, a box of pasta, a few cloves of garlic, and a directive to cook for their families. Best homework ever.

Posted by on April 3rd, 2017

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