I recently taught a few classes with some fantastic students from the Murphy School in Dorchester and their instructor, Mr. G. Mr. G. is the kind of teacher I can only describe as someone who was born to be an educator. He had a special kind of rapport with his students that is only established when a teacher is both great at their job and really cares about their students.
During our second class together, he mentioned that he now lets his son, who was a part of the first class the group took, use a knife in the kitchen – a task he was previously barred from. He said that now that his son had had a lesson in how to properly use a knife, he felt more comfortable letting him be a part of those aspects of dinner preparation.
I think this is a common sentiment around young people’s abilities in the kitchen. We have all kinds of concerns over their safety or assume they won’t be interested. At TBK we find time and again that when you bring kids into the kitchen and get them involved in cooking their own meals, they have a great time and are more inclined to eat the food they made, even if that means eating the butternut squash you insisted on putting in the lasagna.
I often see “kids cooking” relegated to the realm of the dessert and at TBK we strive to push past that, rarely even making desserts but having our students, most of whom are new to the kitchen, making whole meals from scratch – lasagna, burgers, stews, and curries. Desserts are saved for special occasions, like the final class of a series and are always in addition to the recipe we’re making for our dinner. So after a demonstration and a stern talk about safety, we hand our students chef’s knives and get them chopping.
In this recent class, with the Youth and Police Partnership, the students made Chicken Broccoli Ziti, a pasta dish made with roasted chicken, broccoli and a cream sauce. The students learned how to make a Bechamel sauce, a basic technique in classical french cooking, and we talked about why making something at home that you could easily buy as a take-out meal is so important.
The students almost always talk about the freshness of the food and how you can make it healthier at home. We also talked about how the home-made meal was actually cheaper than a take-out meal since you get more servings from the ingredients you purchase. We talk about all of these issues and then, when we pass the plates around and dig in, the room goes silent. In these moments, I love the sound of silence.
ZITI WITH CHICKEN & BROCCOLI
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts (or other type of chicken meat)
- 1/2 stick butter
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
- 1/3 cup flour
- 2 cups of whole milk or half &half
- 2 1/2 cups grated asiago or Parmesan cheese
- 1 lb whole wheat ziti
- 1 bunch broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces (the stems are good too!)
1. In a large stockpot, boil a lot of water for the pasta and add a pinch of salt (this brings out the starch in the pasta).
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a chicken in a casserole dish or roasting pan. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with 1 clove minced garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Roast the chicken in the oven until there is no pink left in the meat and the juices run clear when the chicken is cut, about 20 minutes. When the chicken is cooked, remove from the oven and let it cool.
3. Meanwhile, in a heavy small saucepan, heat the butter. Add the garlic and sauté over low heat for about 2 minutes. Add the flour. Stir well and with a whisk, slowly pour in the milk/half and half. Continue to whisk well. Bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes. Turn the heat off and add the cheese, stir until it is melted. Add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Add the ziti to the boiling water and boil 7 minutes. Add the broccoli and boil another 3 minutes. Drain the pasta/broccoli and rinse with cold water (this stops it from cooking once you have decided it is done – you decide by tasting!).
5. Put the pasta, chicken, and broccoli in a casserole dish, then pour the cream sauce on top. Sprinkle the top with some more cheese and bake for 25 minutes in a 350 oven or serve right from the dish!