Friday, September 23, 2011

Anti-pesto

Trying to get buy-in for the day’s activities, T tells the kids that after they get their work done, we’ll be having pasta with pesto made by the cooking group. Hands fly up.

Girl #1: I don’t like pesto.
Boy #1: Me neither.
Girl #2: I don’t like pesto, either.
Back to Girl #1: Can I have my pasta without pesto?
And so on. Who knew, it’s the anti-pesto table (okay, I admit it, pun intended).

I interrupt (a bad habit I am trying to break so I have to fess up about it): Do you guys know what the word “pesto” means? (Hmm, no, they don’t.) It means “paste.” It can be made of anything, ground up into paste. It doesn’t even have to be green.

They cock their nine-year-old heads at me, like, seriously? Are you crazy?
An hour later, every mouth is full. Of green stuff. With raw garlic in it. And who asks for thirds? Girl #1. (Gratification.)

Hand-mashed pesto
Before class, dry-roast a cup of pumpkin seeds (just stir them around for a while in a hot cast iron pan on the stove).
Have the kids peel and coarsely chop a half a large head of garlic. They each will have a small pile on their cutting board.
Then have them tear leaves off (prewashed) basil—they can tear them up small if they need something to do.
Pass the mortar and pestle down the row. Each one will add their piles of garlic and basil leaves, a handful of the roasted seeds, and a pinch of salt, and smash away. (You can drizzle in a bit of olive oil but too much will cause undue splashing.)
Here’s the cool part: between each kid, scrape the pesto into a large bowl, stir in a little oil, and let them all take a taste. The first taste will be “WAY too spicy!” from the garlic. Subsequent kids will adjust their garlic amounts according to preference, add extra seeds and salt, etc to play with the flavors. But keep adding each batch into the communal bowl and tasting. So, the first taste will be from just one kid’s batch, the second will blend two kids’ batches, and so on. By the end, everyone will love it. Magical, but true.
Add pre-cooked pasta (have some rice pasta on hand for the gluten-free kids) and serve. Make sure you have enough for seconds (and thirds).

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