Late Summer Pasta Primavera

September 16, 2011

Late Summer Primavera

As part of my work with Barilla, I recently attended Casa Barilla, a four-day event going strong through 5 pm this evening in New York’s Central Park featuring cooking classes, food and culture workshops and children’s activities. The admission is $5, all of which is donated to Food Bank for New York City (along with the proceeds of any Barilla sales from the Casa Barilla store). Once inside, everything is free—the workshops, interactive classes, food (there’s so much good food!), drinks and, my favorite part, the kids activities in the Piccolini Playground.

One of the many reasons I decided to work with Barilla is because it’s a fourth-generation family owned business committed to the power of family meals. The company has started “Share the Table,” a family dinner project; has commissioned a white paper on the benefits of the family dinner; has turned their site into a resource for making family meals a manageable reality; and—proving that Barilla will put their money where their mouths are—has created Piccolini, a line of healthy pastas for children.

The Barilla commitment to family was in full effect at Casa Barilla. The entire area and all of the food was kid friendly, but the Piccolini Playground area was especially fabulous! Kids got backpacks and aprons, made colorful macaroni necklaces and homemade pasta. They also had tables set up with their own version of Memory which, being the gamer that he is, was the Hungry Boy’s favorite part. I liked it too since all of the icons were fruits and veggies (nicely designed ones, I might add!).

Barilla Piccolini memory game

The folks who worked the area were wonderful, helping prep the pasta dough…

Barilla prepping pasta dough

roll the dough…

Barilla roll pasta dough

and work the pasta making machine.

Barilla pasta making machine

Though delicious, the Hungry Boy’s pasta got smooshed on the way home, but he ate it for dinner anyway, mixed in with some Piccolini Rich in Fiber-White Pasta, a pasta that looks and tastes like traditional semolina pasta but with 3 times the fiber.

Piccolini Rich in Fiber

While at Casa Barilla, the Hungry Boy and I taste tested another Piccolini product, pasta with veggies! There are three kinds: tomato and carrots, zucchini and spinach, and carrots and squash. We tried the latter at Casa Barilla, after which the Hungry Boy requested a box for home. And, yes, I told him that the pasta was made with squash! In fact, each variety is made with durum wheat flour and a puree of veggies mixed with water, providing a single serving of veggies per 100g portion. Um, genius!

Piccolini Squash and Carrot pasta

I hear you guys now: isn’t that hiding veggies? Well, it is if you don’t say anything to your kids. And it isn’t if you tell them. The zucchini and spinach pasta is green, just like many spinach pastas I’m sure you’ve enjoyed in your time. As I’ve said before, though I’m adamant about refusing to hide veggies, I’m not against using vegetable is all different preparations. Sometimes it’s not clear that veggies are in something and that may help dinner go more smoothly. I’d be an idiot to deny that. (No comments, please!) But that doesn’t mean that we should—or that anyone should encourage us to—make a habit of lying to our kids about healthy foods (not to mention go out of our way to do some much extra cooking!).

On that note, I will say that I noticed some sneaky chef-type marketing around the Piccolini veggie pastas, which I hope doesn’t continue. I love you Barilla, but let’s not perpetuate the idea that we have to be quiet or lie about vegetables. Your veggie pastas are delicious and should be celebrated for their veggie content!

What a ride Summer of Italy has been! I helped Barilla raise money to feed the hungry, I spied a Fiat with my car-obsessed boy, I made a killer Almond Arugula Pesto, I listened to Scott Conant and other celeb chefs wax poetic about Italian cooking and culture at Casa Barilla, and I came this close to seeing Andrea Bocelli live in Central Park (alas, a cold beat me and a fever the Hungry Baby—sigh). Most importantly, though, I celebrated family cooking with my Hungry Boy.

Grazie, Barilla.

Grazie Barilla

Simple Late Summer Primavera
serves 4-6
can be shared with kids 10+ mos

1 lb your favorite Barilla cut pasta (I used Piccolini Rich in Fiber-White Mini Rotini)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more to finish
2 strips bacon (optional)
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, washed
3 cups chopped swiss chard
2 cups fresh corn cut off of the cob
2 cup broth, vegetable or chicken
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Salt and pepper

1. Cook pasta according to package directions minus 2 minutes. Drain, saving a mugful of pasta water, but do not rinse. Set pasta aside.

2. In a large pan set over medium heat, add olive oil and, once hot, add bacon. Cook until bacon just begins to brown in spots, then add garlic. Continue cooking until the bacon is crisp, being careful not to burn the garlic in the meantime. (If the garlic starts to over brown, add a small splash of broth to slow the cooking).

3. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the tomatoes. Cook until the skins of the first tomatoes begin split open, then add swiss chard and corn. Saute for another 2-3 minutes or so, until the chard has wilted and most of the tomato skins have split.

4. Return the heat medium-low and add your preferred broth and the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the pasta and a big splash of pasta cooking water. Toss well to combine, making sure to coat all of the pasta, and cook until the liquid thickens slightly. You can add more cooking water or broth as necessary to get the right sauce consistency.

5. Take the pasta off of the heat and add the grated cheese, salt and pepper. Finish with a big glug of olive oil and taste to adjust seasoning.

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