Skeptical. Suspicious. Why are my noodles covered in this green GOOP? I wondered this nearly 20 years ago as I tasted my first forkful of pesto. Pleasantly surprised. My young taste buds do their best to decipher the flavors. A bit of salt. A bit of spice. Something entirely unfamiliar…(HINT HINT it’s basil). The texture. Smooth with some grit. Soft with a bite. I had never tasted anything quite like it before. I felt happy. Excited. Curious. WHAT was I even eating? I knew I liked it, but I wanted to know more. I wanted to know how my mom had created that pasta dish on that hot summer night. So the next time she pulled the food processor down from the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet and told me we were having pesto for dinner, I was delighted to be her sous chef.
If you are looking to get your kids more involved in the kitchen, or struggling to introduce them to new foods that might seem scary at first, the first step is to make it seem approachable. I did not like the looks of that mysterious green sauce, but once I was able to get involved and see the fun side of cooking, I was more willing to have a taste! So open up the door for conversation, tell stories about your own childhood and your favorite foods, or maybe a food that you were wary of at first, but grew to LOVE. Unless you are working to add some hidden vegetables to your little one’s plate, try showing them the individual ingredients, invite them to do some mixing and stirring, or light chopping if they are old enough. Soon they might learn that with clean hands and an open mind, even unfamiliar foods can be transformed into delicious dishes!
Five clean and simply ingredients, all blended together until perfectly combined. I remember her steady hands pouring in one more glug of oil, tossing in one more handful of nuts, as my tiny finger eagerly pushed the big black button on the food processor. The sides of the machine were clear. I loved watching, mesmerized by the spinning motion and changing colors. The dark green of the basil growing lighter and brighter as it combined with the white from the pine nuts and parmesan. I felt calm. Watching the water finally come to a boil and the pasta noodles morph from hard to soft. I felt at ease. I could not quite comprehend how all of these ingredients worked together in such harmony, but I knew I had found my absolute favorite food.
Fast forward to today, I have eaten pesto countless times summer after summer. It has always been my meal of choice for birthday dinners. It has never disappointed me whether eaten hot and freshly made or cold and leftover the next day (I actually prefer it this way). Today I could whip up a batch of pesto sauce entirely on my own, doing more than just pushing one button on the machine that was once bigger than my head. I can measure out each ingredient, adding them into the mix at just the right time and speed. (Although by “measure” I really mean take out all my measuring cups and spoons but end up just dumping stuff in until it tastes good.)
Certainly I am no expert in the kitchen. I cannot make you an edible soufflé, or the perfect layer cake, or a risotto to die for. I can however, take a bunch of basil, a few heads of garlic, a splash of olive oil, a handful of pine nuts, and a few shakes of parmesan and turn them into a dish that is sure to satisfy on any July evening. So the next time you are wondering what to do with that basil fresh from your farmer’s market, or better yet from your own garden, invite your kids into the kitchen for some tiny but mighty helping hands.