Sunday, June 7, 2015

Kid Approved Pasta with Squash

Pasta & Squash & Panna

Squash and Stickers???

Before I illustrate a popular, kid-friendly pasta dish that I have been preparing for years, might I first lodge a complaint??

Whoever invented those maddening stickers that are now pasted on most fruits and vegetables at the market should be sent to jail! And I mean fully incarcerated -- for a long time!   I don't know about anyone else, but these vexing stickers are incredibly annoying to remove from the produce, often leave a sticky residue, are definitely not organic and are simply unsightly! Is there no other way for the check-out personnel to identify their fruits and vegetables?? Jeepers!!

Ok, onto a pasta fave...

I like to boast that my daughter loves fruits and vegetables.  When cooking at home, I always make sure that, in addition to the main dish,  every meal consists of a large green salad and at least one side of green vegetables -- thankfully, it is all devoured by everyone in the family.

Many children, it seems, have an affinity for squash!  So, in honor of that, I proudly present this simple, crowd-pleaser. It's delicious:

Here is what you will need:

6 small to medium sized green squash (not too big, please)
1 large onion (or 2 small onions)
1 pound of pasta (my favorite, Sfoglini, pictured above, is made here in Brooklyn, and is delectable)
Penne pasta or bowtie pasta pairs well with this dish
1 cup freshly graded parmesan
1 cup of cream -OR- 1 cup of panna (pre-made bechamel found in Italian specialty stores)
1 tablespoon of olive oil

Note: If you have enough lead time, order the Italian Panna da Cucina (Italian cooking cream) online:

It makes this dish much more robust, and unopened, can also be saved for months.

Dice the onion and cube the squash. 

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan.

Trick: Add one small piece of onion. If the onion sizzles, the oil is ready.

Add the rest of the onion.

Note: It takes about 8-10 minutes to cook this sauce, or about the same time that it takes to cook the pasta.  So at the same time that you start sautéing the onion, put the pasta in boiling water.

Once onion is soft and translucent (about 2 minutes) add the diced squash and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the panna (or cream) and stir into mixture.  Season the sauce with salt and pepper (to taste).

Using the water from the cooking pasta, add 1/2 cup to the cooking squash.  This will thin the sauce. Continue to cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add more of this water until desired consistency is achieved, but is should not be too soupy.  

Add the cooked (al dente) pasta directly into the sauté pan with the squash.  Cook together for 1 more minute.

Serve with freshly graded parmesan.

My daughter enjoys pasta and squash so much that she rendered it in ceramics class! Similar, right?

Tip:  When using freshly graded parmesan, be sure to take it out of the refrigerator at least a half hour before using.  It is best if the rind is a bit sweaty, this is when the flavor is ripest.

Buon appetito! 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Overcoming Kid's Summer Boredom, or Not?

Time for some creative thinking...

For many parents, like myself, the end of the school year brings heightened anxiety.   Three entire months of activities need to be cultivated, organized and executed.  For me, I have but 4 weeks of the summer planned out for our daughter -- with a play-based summer camp hosted at her school commencing the week after school ends. But, unlike prior years, this is the first year that I am not stressing out about the rest of her summertime activities. Perhaps, it is because she is getting older and more self-sufficient. Or perhaps, it is because I am not afraid of, and even look forward to, those three often dreaded words  -- I am bored.

Recently, I helped friends lead a birthday party for twenty-five 8 year olds. Midway into the party one of the young attendees impertinently approached me and said, over and over again: "I'm bored, I'm bored, I'm bored." Aside from being almost speechless at this poorly behaved child, I was amazed that the child felt it my responsibility to keep her amused at all times. So I simply said to the child: "Enjoy being bored."  With that, she turned on her heels and found someone else to pester into amusing her.

I have long maintained that being bored, in moderation, is healthy for children.  They do not need to be constantly stimulated by electronics, or transported from one activity to the next. They don't always need every minute of the day organized, especially in the summer. Being bored is an important cognitive state for children, it forces them to tap into their creativity, to make up stories in their heads, to find a toy out of a common household device, to daydream.  It allows them to imagine, invent and explore their inner world. It also gives them time to process, to reflect. Boredom is essential, and to be clichéd -- boredom is the mother of all invention!

Taking away boredom takes away creativity and ultimately, takes away ambition.  While kids explore their inner world, they begin to discover their passions. It gives them time to think about goals. Ultimately, unstructured (boredom) time teaches children how to manage their free time, their way.

As New Yorkers, my family does not spend much time in the car.  However, in the summer, our car time greatly increases, traveling mostly to beach destinations.  When it is just my daughter and I in the car, reading is encouraged, drawing is allowed, singing along to music is common,  pointing out cloud formations is practiced, but electronics are prohibited.  Yes, this rule causes far more work for me than if I simply put a movie on her lap, but it is worthwhile. In our car, imagination rules the road.

With all that said, I do believe there is a fine line between abundant summer time play/downtime and some structured time for school work.  How much is lost over the summer, when children are not at school?  Not too much, perhaps, but not too little either.  If I allowed my daughter to skip piano for  3 months, she would lose a fair amount of technique, and most certainly most of the pieces that she has committed to memory.  So while there will be plenty of time to be bored, piano practice will continue through the summer.  And dito  goes for some schoolwork, too. I already purchased a few grade-level appropriate workbooks that will be used to reinforce what was learned earlier in the school year.  This should make me popular in my house!

All things considered, while I cannot keep the "I'm bored" phrase completely out of our family's vernacular,  I can make sure the house is stocked with plenty of the following creative tools this summer:

sidewalk chalk
crafts, especially the bejewelling kind!
cooking/baking projects
tape, scissors and popsickle sticks
& lots of playdates!

Good Luck!

Go get bored!