February 16th, 2010

High School Cooking Class: meatballs!

kara stirring

That’s Kara, intent on carefully stirring this big batch of Italian meatballs in hearty red sauce, the centerpiece of a meal made by her and fellow Brentwood Academy students attending our cooking seminar at Second Harvest.
For Winterim, she and eight others chose to come to our Culinary Arts Center to learn some kitchen skills and tasty recipes.

We are fortunate at our food bank to have a teaching kitchen. Each week, volunteers get hands-on experience in a commercial setting, preparing our Friday First Harvest Cafe buffet lunch.

Mark and I also feel strongly about teaching youth to cook—informing the palate and developing skills in the kitchen are as critical as reading, math and science (all of which come into play with understanding recipes, measurements, temperatures….)

We have designed a series of classes specific to teens. Periodically during the school year, we host these three-day seminars. On the first day, the kids make a big lunch for themselves. The next day, they cook a full course dinner to bring home to their families. The final day, they assist with our First Harvest Cafe: cooking and serving for the hundred-plus guests who attend.

In the summer, we offer COOKS RULE, week-long cooking camps that expand on some of the skills and recipes touched on in the smaller seminars. We have sophisticated menus exploring cuisines from around world and incorporating fresh local products from our farmers.

For this class, our students learned some Italian-American basics:
meatballs, tomato sauce, pasta, salad and red wine herb vinaigrette
The morning was spent preparing our lunch.

I developed these recipes to be straightforward and simple, without sacrificing flavor, and have found them to be well received by just about anyone interested in learning to cook. I’ve taught them to teens and to formerly homeless. Mindful of what people have access to, the meatball and sauce recipes indicate options for fresh or dried herbs.

We always emphasize that recipes are starting points, guideposts: free to adapt as you choose. It’s all about creativity. Cooking is foremost an art. Happily, there are myriad variations of meatballs and sauce out in the world, and there’s always another tasty take on a known dish.

many hands at work

Our students work in teams. We strive to have a good balance of lecture and demonstration with mainly hands-on work. And, really, that’s why they are there. Everyone wants to get her hands in the action. Mixing and rolling meatballs is a perfect means…..

intent on their job

Plus, it is a WHOLE lot of fun. We strive to have joy in our kitchen.
But, truly, that’s something we don’t have to work hard to achieve!

marcus and austin

meatlballs on sheetpan

The meatballs are oven roasted. It’s an easy way to cook them, and drain off any excess grease before they are plunged into the pot of red sauce to simmer. (Of course, big batches of meatballs can made, roasted, and frozen—ready to use at a later point in time.)

While the sauce simmers, the students clean, spin, and toss greens with a vinaigrette they whipped up themselves. We prepare the pasta (linguine in this case) and set up our buffet…dine on our reward, a delicious lunch. Good work!

big pot of italian meatballs_001

Italian Meatballs
1 lb. Lean Ground Beef
¼ lb. Sweet Italian Sausage, casing removed
2 -3 slices of French or Italian bread, torn into small pieces
2 teaspoons minced Garlic
1 small Onion, chopped very finely
2 Tablespoons dried Italian herbs (or finely chopped 2 T. fresh basil, 1 T. fresh oregano, 2 t. fresh thyme, 1 t. flat leaf parsley)
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Black Pepper
6 Tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten

Break up the ground beef and sausage into a large mixing bowl.
Add the bread pieces, garlic, onions, herbs, salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, parmesan cheese and the beaten egg.
Vigorously mix all the ingredients together by hand-almost like kneading bread dough-until all the herbs and bread pieces are well mixed throughout the meat.
The mixture will get a little fluffy and shiny when it is mixed well.
Shape into balls-about the size of a golf ball, (or smaller, if desired). Place the meatballs on a baking sheetpan.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes or until done.
Drain any excess grease and place the cooked meatballs into your thick Italian Tomato Sauce.

linguine and meatballs

Hearty Italian Tomato Sauce
3 Tablespoons Olive oil
2 small Onions, finely chopped
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 large (28 oz.)Can Tomatoes in juice-coarsely chopped, save the juice!
1 small can (6 oz) Tomato paste
1 Bay Leaf
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
1 teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Black pepper
1 Tablespoon Basil
2 teaspoons Oregano

In a large saucepan (3-4 quart size) heat olive oil.
Add the chopped onions first and sauté until soft and translucent-about 7 minutes.
Then add the garlic and cook for another minute or so, stirring constantly.
Add the coarsely chopped tomatoes and their juice, the tomato paste, all the herbs and spices and stir well until it begins to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally.
Add cooked meatballs and continue simmering. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

mark and students

Posted in Meats/Poultry, Pastas, Recipes, Sauces

9 Responses to “High School Cooking Class: meatballs!”
  1. rachel Says:

    hello Nancy (and Mark and everyone who cooked)
    This is just wonderful, really wonderful, inspiring stuff, I guessed you were rather special from your posts but this sealed it…I wish I’d had you as a teacher when I was at school, what a great way to teach young people about good food, creativity, working and eating together. I would like to sign up for the test kichen days and the cook rule summer camp please (I know, I know… I am too old and too far away)
    The meatballs look really delicious too….

    Have I gushed too much – hope so.

  2. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Rachel–you are so kind. We would LOVE to have you join us in our kitchen, any time.

  3. claudia @ ceF Says:

    nancy, let’s have lunch soon and raise our glass to rachel…

  4. goodfoodmatters Says:

    claudia—wonderful idea, we’ll make a plan…

  5. Christine @Fresh Local and Best Says:

    What a great program to equip the next generation of home cooks! The meatballs look fantastic and best of all everyone had fun making them!

  6. Leisa Hammett Says:

    YUM! Nancy, you lead such a rich life! (No pun intended.) I saw you’re featured in this month’s NashvilleArt Magazine. You’re really rocking, woman!

  7. Nancy Says:

    Such a wonderful program and very inspiring. This should happening in more places around the nation.

  8. mark Says:

    One of the lifes true joys is working with Nancy. She is the Z in zest. Thank you for all that you do in the name of “Good Food Matters,”

  9. mark Says:


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