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Simple Sides: Savory Strawberries!

By Dennis Linden

Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.

Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic -- this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.

I came across this unusual dish while googling for savory strawberry recipes and just had to try it. Besides, instead of all those expected savory strawberry “recipes”, choices turned out to be very few. There is no doubt that spaghetti and strawberries are a very strange combination to envision; both normally occupy places far apart on a menu. Still, this is an interesting dish that is a fun way to teach your kids a legacy cooking lesson in making a batch of pasta with a simple, albeit very unusual, sauce component. Legacy meaning that this is one of those basic cooking lessons that is sure to serve them well for the rest of their lives.

While this is a very basic pasta and sauce recipe, your young kitchen helpers will need some hands-on supervision throughout the process. Dare I say it -- the family who makes pasta together, stays together! The kids can and should measure out all the ingredients on their own. However, the adult in the room should demonstrate how to strain off the hot pasta water and safely retain some for the sauce. The same supervision should be practiced with the knife work needed to slice the cross-cuts in the Roma Tomatoes and in halving the strawberries. An adult should also handle transferring the hot blanched tomatoes into the ice-water bath; once cooled, the tomatoes can be peeled by your helpers.

The strawberries are a fun twist to a standard pasta sauce, but are really treated no different than if they were, for instance, chunks of Italian sausage. The short list of supporting ingredients for the pasta sauce -- balsamic vinegar, agave and a pinch of salt – lays a foundation that your aspiring cooks can build on as their own culinary experience and confidence grows.

I actually preferred this dish served as a cold pasta side, but it could be served straight off the stovetop. Warm, it was a bit sweet for my taste, though kids are going to love that about it. The entire flavor profile changes when the recipe is served chilled. This could be a fun lunch, especially as the weather warms up through spring and summer, which is also the peak of strawberry season goodness. Enjoy!

Spaghetti ‘n Strawberries
Serves 6

¾ pound Good-Quality Dried Spaghetti
4 tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 pound Ripe Strawberries, cleaned and halved
2 tablespoons White Balsamic Vinegar
1 cup Tomato Purée**
4 ounces Reserved Pasta Water
Salt and black pepper, to taste

5 medium Roma Tomatoes
1 teaspoon White Balsamic Vinegar
½ teaspoon Organic Blue Agave Syrup
Pinch of Salt

What the kids can do
  1. Measure out all ingredients before starting preparation.
  1. Prepare the tomatoes for boiling by slicing a cross at the bottom of each tomato
  2. When boiled tomatoes have cooled, peel off the skin, cut the tomatoes in half.
  3. Purée them in a mixer or blender to a smooth paste -- do not add water.
  4. Transfer this purée to a small mixing bowl
  5. Mix in vinegar, agave, and salt.
Pasta (under close adult supervision)
  1. Cook the pasta in rapidly boiling salted water until al dente.
  2. In a large sauté pan, warm the olive oil and half of the strawberries over medium heat.
  3. Cook until the strawberries start to release juice.
  4. Add balsamic and reduce by half.
  5. Add tomato purée, the rest of the strawberries, and the reserved pasta water, and reduce by half again until the sauce thickens. Season to taste.
  6. Toss the spaghetti with a little olive oil and black pepper, top with the sauce.

What the supervising adult should do
Boil just enough water to immerse the tomatoes for blanching. Cook over medium heat until the skin where the kids cut it, can peel off. Transfer blanched tomatoes to the ice bath, demonstrating to your helper how it stops the cooking process. All the stovetop work must be either done by the adult or very closely supervised. Serve family style, either warm or chilled, as a side dish or main course.

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