“It’s important to any good chef to use what’s grown nearby. It’s fresher and it tastes better,” Chef Ethan McKee explained to Ms. Burkett’s 3rd grade class as the group stood at the entrance to the school garden at Francis Stevens Elementary, with me, their FoodPrints* teacher, nodding enthusiastically and passing out harvest scissors. “That’s why today we’re going to use what’s growing in your garden to fill the raviolis and make the sauce for the fettuccine noodles. It’s early spring, so we have spinach and collards and fresh herbs to work with. If we were making pasta at my restaurant, Urbana, in the summertime, we’d be using lots of tomatoes. But it’s too cold for tomatoes to be growing now. Speaking of cold weather, what do you think we could use in the fall? Can anyone think of a fall vegetable?”
“Pumpkin?” a shy 3rd grader offered.
“Yes!” Urbana’s executive chef beamed, “It’s one of our most popular ravioli fillings in the fall. Nice work. Okay, now let’s get harvesting some spinach for our spring pasta!”
Twenty minutes later, we were back in the FoodPrints teaching kitchen giving our hands a good scrub with soap and water before student groups dove hands first into the flour set up at the cooking stations around the room. Over the next two hours, the Snail of Approval-winning chef talked us through separating eggs, making the dough and then rolling it through a series of settings on the pasta machines he’d brought along, then cutting and filling our fresh pasta.
We were a good team: I washed and minced our garden harvest and cooked things up with lots of garlic for the ravioli filling (it was a FoodPrints class after all, and we always use lots of garlic) and the sauce while Chef Ethan moved about the room offering guidance and suggestions, pointing out how nice and smooth one group’s dough had become, complimenting another group on their patience as different students rolled it through the machine, smiling reassuringly at our parent volunteers who had never made noodles from scratch before. As Ethan dished up our freshly cooked up pasta, ours mouths all began to water, and I marveled at this wonderful 3rd year of partnership between a public elementary school, a nearby restaurant, and a local nonprofit.
Seriously, though, third graders making pasta from a pile of flour and eggs? How did it all come out??
*FoodPrints is the education program of FreshFarm, another DC-area Snail of Approval winner! If you’re interested in volunteering with FoodPrints classes at one of the program’s 13 DCPS partner schools, contact FreshFarm.