Natalie scrunched her nose and shook her head in disgust; she had a serious dislike for tomatoes. I encouraged the students, “Everyone must try everything while we cook. You never know, you might like it!” This was my father’s mantra when my brother and I were growing up; nothing on our plate was left untasted. Throughout the week, I made sure Natalie didn’t avoid any part of the meal that had tomatoes. Slowly, I started to notice her opening up, however I still wasn’t convinced of any significant breakthrough.
A week after the camp, I was at the farmer’s market buying some fresh produce. I heard a high-pitched voice yell, “Mommy, we need these for the sauce!” Looking up, I saw Natalie at the same stand, smiling and holding three ruby red tomatoes. “Natalie! Are you buying tomatoes?” She looked up and nodded. “We’re making the tomato sauce that we made at Camp Cauliflower!”
Creating Camp Cauliflower, a nutritionally focused and nonprofit summer program, was the culmination of my love for healthy cooking, something I inherited from my father. I remember my first bite into my dad’s vegetarian taco; freshly made salsa and creamy guacamole tickled my taste buds with flavor, making me wonder how he made such a delicious meal from such basic ingredients. For as long as I can remember my father has prepared a wholesome and hearty meal every night for my family.
Our family has been labelled the “busiest bunch in Marin County;” however, we always make sure to sit down and eat dinner together every evening. Whether my brother is rushing to basketball practice or my mother is working with a client, we will always wait until everyone is home to start our meal. I remember watching my dad make pizza dough for the first time; seeing the bubbles rise to the top of the yeast, warm water and sugar mixture at the bottom of the bowl astounded me. With a little flour, this substance would eventually become a ball a dough, ready to go into the oven. The purity of these ingredients made me realize the importance of knowing what goes into our food.
My experimentation with flavors became second nature to me as I learned the secret behind altering a sauce’s sweetness, saltiness, or spiciness. I find that cooking lets me connect to my family through the conversation and activity that occurs in the kitchen; while my mom makes her famous kale salad, I’m helping my father assemble the homemade ravioli. My brother is known as the brave taster, making “sure that nothing is poisonous.” My most memorable moments are the ones spent in the kitchen with my whole family.
To make Camp Cauliflower a reality, I created an online fundraising campaign, connected with the head of the Food and Nutrition Program in Novato, organized my friends as volunteers in the kitchen, and asked local grocery stores for donations; I was determined to make this camp free to the children who wanted to attend and to give them the experience of cooking in a commercial kitchen. During the week, I led the five campers through hands-on cooking projects, making an organic and nutritious lunch every day. That very next week at the market, Natalie proved the camp’s mission successful.
Now it’s your turn to dive into one of our camp experiences! Try out this delicious recipe the Camp Cauliflower kids made last summer.
- All Purpose Flour, 1 ¼ cup
- Whole Wheat Flour, 1 ¼ cup
- Eggs, 3
- Olive Oil, 1 TBSP
- Salt, pinch
- Part skim ricotta cheese, 1 cup
- Grated parmesan cheese, ¾ cup
- Fresh Italian parsley, 2 TBSP
- Sage, 1 TBSP
- Freshly grated nutmeg, 1/2 TSP
- Ground pepper, 1/2 TSP
- Salt, 1 TSP
- Fresh Spinach, 3/4 pound
- Ripe Roma Tomatoes, 2 lbs
- Olive Oil, 3 TBSP
- Yellow Onion, 2/3 cup
- Cloves of garlic, 4
- Rosemary leaves, 2 TSP
- Fresh Oregano, 2 TSP
- Balsamic vinegar, 2 TBSP
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Take 5 minutes to get out all your ingredients, measuring and cooking equipment needed, and place them on a cookie sheet within easy reach. Wash all ingredients.
- Mound flour and salt in a pile and make a large well in the center. Crack the egg into the the well, add oil, and carefully beat with a fork. Incorporate flour into the egg by continuing to whisk with the with fork. Once flour and egg are fairly well mixed, use a board scraper to cut and mix dough further. Scrape and roll the dough into a ball.
- Knead dough on a lightly floured surface by hand for five minutes to yield a smooth, not too wet or too dry, firmer than bread dough. Let dough rest under inverted bowl for 15 minutes.
- Measure out all ingredients for the Spinach-Ricotta filling and place in a mixing bowl.
- Mince parsley and sage. Add to bowl.
- Wilt and stir fresh spinach. Cool, drain well and press out all remaining water. Chop very fine and add to ricotta mix. Refrigerate mix until you need it.
- Blanch and seed Roma tomatoes. Set aside.
- Chop onion.
- Mince garlic, rosemary leaves, and oregano.
- Roll dough with rolling pin and cut into squares with pizza or pasta cutter. Place a teaspoon of filling in each square. Brush edges of ravioli with egg wash, put top on ravioli and press edges to seal. Place ravioli on flour dusted tray and let dry. Drop raviolis in boiling water for 4 minutes and then remove.
- For sauce, heat a sauce pan and add oil. Add onions and sauté for a few minutes until translucent. Turn off heat and add garlic, rosemary, and dried seasonings if using. Sauté on residual heat until soft and fragrant. Do not burn garlic.
- Add tomatoes and simmer on medium-low for 10 minutes until tomatoes have broken down. Add fresh herbs, vinegar and seasonings and stir over heat to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking!
- This recipe is not gluten-free