Kid-friendly Basil Kid-Made Gnocchi + Five-Ingredient Tomato Sauce + Italian Vanilla Basil Sodas Recipe - Sticky Fingers Cooking
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Family Meal Plan: "Bellissima" Basil Kid-Made Gnocchi + Five-Ingredient Tomato Sauce + Italian Vanilla Basil Sodas

Family Meal Plan: Basil Kid-Made Gnocchi + Five-Ingredient Tomato Sauce + Italian Vanilla Basil Sodas

"Bellissima" Basil Kid-Made Gnocchi + Five-Ingredient Tomato Sauce + Italian Vanilla Basil Sodas

by Erin Fletter
Photo by Grazziela/Shutterstock.com
prep time
40 minutes
cook time
15 minutes
makes
4-6 servings

Fun Food Story

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"Bellissima" Basil Kid-Made Gnocchi

Gnocchi (Nyoh-kee) are perfectly kid-friendly, and people of all ages seem to love their pillowy texture and shape. They are total comfort food made with simple pantry ingredients. And this recipe is really a practice in using all the senses. Smell the basil. Feel the dough. Listen for the water to boil. Watch for the gnocchi to bounce to the surface of the boiling water. Taste the flavors and feel the soft texture as you're eating. As with all of the recipes we test, we try to imagine the variable outcomes across a spectrum of ages and environments that make up our Sticky Fingers classes! It is so fun to see the results when kids get involved! These gnocchi are likely to come out rustic and in shapes of all kinds, and we happen to find that charming. We call them "Bellisima," which means "beautiful" in Italian. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it's seen in all shapes and sizes. With people. With gnocchi. On whatever we set our eyes!

Happy & Healthy Cooking,

Chef Erin, Food-Geek-in-Chief
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Shopping List

  • FRESH
  • 13 fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 C packed fresh spinach
  • DAIRY AND EGGS
  • 1 egg **(see allergy subs below)**
  • 7 oz ricotta cheese **(see allergy subs below)**
  • 2 oz shredded Parmesan for topping, optional **(see allergy subs below)**
  • 3 T butter **(see allergy subs below)**
  • PANTRY
  • 1 1/2 T olive oil
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 C all-purpose flour **(see allergy subs below)**
  • 1 14-oz can tomato sauce or puréed tomatoes **(see allergy subs below)**
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 T sugar
  • 3 C sparkling water
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract **(see allergy subs below)**
  • 1/2 C sugar/agave nectar/honey
  • HAVE ON HAND
  • water to cook gnocchi
  • ice

Fun-Da-Mentals Kitchen Skills

  • blend :

    to stir together two or more ingredients until just combined; blending is a gentler process than mixing.

  • knead :

    to work dough by pushing, pulling, and folding it by hand or with a stand mixer.

  • measure :

    to calculate the specific amount of an ingredient required using a measuring tool (like measuring cups or spoons).

  • mix :

    to thoroughly combine two or more ingredients until uniform in texture.

  • pour :

    to cause liquid, granules, or powder to stream from one container into another.

  • pulse :

    to process just short of a purée in smooth, rhythmic bursts of power with a blender.

  • simmer :

    to cook a food gently, usually in a liquid, until softened.

  • tear :

    to pull or rip apart a food, like basil leaves, into pieces instead of cutting with a knife; cutting breaks cell walls more, so herbs can discolor faster.

Equipment Checklist

  • Blender (or pitcher + immersion blender)
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Can opener
  • Small saucepan
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Dry measuring cups
  • Wooden spoon or rubber spatula
  • Large pot
  • Spoon or butter knife, to cut dough rope
  • Colander
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Ingredients

"Bellissima" Basil Kid-Made Gnocchi

  • 10 fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 C packed fresh spinach
  • 1 egg **(for EGG ALLERGY sub 1 T ground flaxseed mixed with 3 T water—more info below)**
  • 7 oz ricotta cheese **(for DAIRY ALLERGY sub 8 oz soft tofu or canned pumpkin + extra salt to taste)**
  • 1 T olive oil + more for drizzling
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 C all-purpose flour + more for kneading **(for GLUTEN ALLERGY sub gluten-free/nut-free all-purpose flour + 1 extra egg + extra oil if needed for slightly sticky dough)**
  • 2 oz shredded Parmesan for topping, optional **(for DAIRY ALLERGY sub dairy-free/nut-free shredded Parmesan, like Daiya brand)**

Five-Ingredient Tomato Sauce

  • 1 14-oz can tomato sauce or puréed tomatoes **(for TOMATO ALLERGY omit sauce or use olive oil + chopped basil to top gnocchi or pasta)**
  • 3 T butter **(for DAIRY ALLERGY sub olive oil)**
  • 1 to 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 to 2 tsp salt
  • 1 T sugar

Italian Vanilla Basil Sodas

  • 3 fresh basil leaves
  • 3 C sparkling water
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract **(for GLUTEN ALLERGY use certified gluten-free pure vanilla extract, not imitation vanilla flavor—check label)**
  • 1/2 C sugar/agave nectar/honey
  • ice

Food Allergen Substitutions

"Bellissima" Basil Kid-Made Gnocchi

  • Egg: For 1 egg, soak 1 T ground flaxseed mixed with 3 T water for 5 minutes or until fully absorbed and thickened.
  • Dairy: For 7 oz ricotta cheese, substitute 8 oz soft tofu or 8 oz canned pumpkin + extra salt to taste. Substitute dairy-free/nut-free shredded Parmesan, like Daiya brand, for optional Parmesan cheese.
  • Gluten/Wheat: For 1 C all-purpose flour, substitute gluten-free/nut-free all-purpose flour + 1 extra egg + extra oil if needed for slightly sticky dough.

Five-Ingredient Tomato Sauce

  • Tomato: Omit recipe or use olive oil + chopped basil to top gnocchi or pasta.
  • Dairy: Substitute olive oil for butter.

Italian Vanilla Basil Sodas

  • Gluten/Wheat: Use certified gluten-free pure vanilla extract, not imitation vanilla flavor. 

Instructions

"Bellissima" Basil Kid-Made Gnocchi

1.
wash + tear + crack + pulse

Wash and shake dry 10 basil leaves and 1/2 cup of spinach leaves. Tear the basil and spinach leaves into tiny, tiny pieces. Combine in a blender. Then crack 1 egg and add it to the blender, too. Pulse until spinach and basil are broken down a bit and blended with the egg.

2.
scoop + measure + add + mix

Scoop the basil, spinach, and egg mixture into a mixing bowl. Then measure and add 7 ounces of ricotta cheese, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and mix well to combine. Then gently mix in 1 cup flour.

3.
boil + knead

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, turn the gnocchi dough onto a floured surface and knead, adding a bit more flour if necessary. The dough should be slightly sticky.

4.
roll + cut + boil + drain

Divide the dough into quarters or halves. Roll each lump of dough into long ropes with your hands. Kids love doing this! The dough ropes should be about 1 inch thick. Use a spoon or a butter knife to cut 1 inch pieces of gnocchi from the ropes. Adult Steps: Carefully drop the gnocchi into boiling water and let cook. Watch for the gnocchi to bounce to the surface. Once all gnocchi have floated to the top, drain in a colander and drizzle with olive oil. Top with Five Ingredient Tomato Sauce (see recipe) and Parmesan cheese. (If not using tomato sauce, top with olive oil, shredded basil, and Parmesan cheese.)

Five-Ingredient Tomato Sauce

1.
measure + add + simmer

Measure and add 1 can tomato sauce, 3 tablespoons butter, 1 to 2 teaspoons onion powder, 1 to 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 tablespoon of sugar to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook until butter melts. Pour sauce over "Bellissima" Basil Kid-Made Gnocchi (see recipe) or cooked pasta. It's great topped with shredded basil and parmesan cheese!

Italian Vanilla Basil Sodas

1.
tear + add + blend + pour

Tear 3 basil leaves and add to a blender along with 1 cup sparkling water, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/2 cup sugar. Blend! Then top with 2 cups of remaining sparkling water and taste. Add more sugar if necessary. Top with ice, pour into cups, and "Saluti!" ("Cheers!")

Surprise Ingredient: Basil!

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Photo by Chizhevskaya Ekaterina/Shutterstock.com

Hi! I’m Basil!

"Ciao (chow)! I'm Basil! But you can also call me Genovese basil (that's Italian, from Genoa). My leaves are usually used fresh, added late in cooking to keep my flavor. If you combine me with olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese, you'll have a yummy, green Italian sauce called "pesto," which is good on pasta. You'll also find me on a delicious but simple pizza from Naples, Italy, called "pizza margherita." Besides fresh basil leaves, Neapolitans (people from Naples) traditionally top this pizza with a tomato sauce from San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt. Of course, basil is good in dishes from many countries!" 

History

  • A long time ago, Greeks and Romans believed basil would only grow if you screamed wild curses and shouted while sowing the seeds. They also thought that If you left a basil leaf under a pot, it would turn into a scorpion!
  • Basil may have originated in India; there are speculations that it originally came from tropical areas spanning from Southeast Asia to Central Africa. 
  • Ancient Egyptians used to use basil to embalm the dead and prepare for burial.
  • In Italy, basil is considered a token of love, and in Romania, if a girl gives a sprig of basil to her boyfriend, they are engaged. 

Anatomy & Etymology

  • Basil is a part of the mint family. There are 50 to 150 species, including Genovese (Italian) basil (the most common), Thai basil, cinnamon basil, lemon basil, lettuce basil, spicy globe basil, and green ruffles basil! Each type of basil has a unique aroma and taste. 
  • Leaves of the basil plant tend to be oval-shaped, shiny, and smooth-edged. Their edges cup slightly. 
  • Basil plants can grow to be from 8 inches to 4 feet high. 
  • Basil has seeds that can germinate after 10 years!
  • Basil will grow small flowers that look like spikes at the top of the plant. The flowers are edible, but we generally eat and use just the leaves.
  • The word "basil" comes from the Greek "vasilikos," which also means "royal." It is believed that basil was once used in royal perfumes. 

How to Pick, Buy, & Eat

  • Basil grows best in hot climates. When harvesting basil, pinch or cut the leaves at the stem from the top of the plant down. Select a few large leaves rather than snipping the whole stem. Choose leaves that are bright and free from blemishes. Picking leaves encourages the plant to produce more leaves. 
  • You could also try growing basil in a pot on your kitchen window sill, so it's easy to pick what you need when you need it.
  • Wash basil gently and pat dry. When you buy basil from the store, it will often come with its stems. Trim the ends of the stems and store in a glass of water as you would a bunch of flowers. Basil stores best at room temperature.
  • Use fresh basil leaves in salads, salad dressings, sauces, pasta, marinades, and sandwiches. Basil leaves in cold water make a nice summer refresher, or add some mint with the leaves to make a digestive hot tea. Basil can be dried or blanched and frozen. Dried basil enhances the flavor of tomato soup.

Nutrition

  • Basil contains 98% of our DV of Vitamin K1 in just one-half of a cup! Vitamin K1 is essential for blood clotting. For example, when we get a cut, we need our blood to clot so that the bleeding will stop and our cut will heal. 
  • Basil contains carotenoids—those powerful plant-based nutrients that protect our cells from oxidation (rust) and enhance immunity. 
  • Essential oils found in basil not only give it its aromatic and therapeutic scent but are also anti-inflammatory. 
  • Basil has been shown to act as an adaptogen. Adaptogens are natural substances that help us respond in a healthful way to stress. So the next time you're feeling stressed, grab a handful of basil, hold it to your nose, and breathe in deeply. Then, toss it in your salad and eat it.

 

History of Gnocchi!

Photo by DELBO ANDREA/Shutterstock.com
  • Gnocchi (pronounced "NYOH-kee") comes from the Italian word "nocca," which means "knuckle." 
  • Gnocchi originated in Northern Italy. The climate in Northern Italy was more suitable for growing potatoes, the original main ingredient of gnocchi.
  • Gnocchi, dumplings traditionally made from potato and flour, have many variations. Every region of Italy has its own version of gnocchi. Gnocchi are peasant food created when times were tough out of available and cheap ingredients. 
  • Long ropes of dough are rolled out before being sliced into pieces, boiled in salted water, and dressed with a variety of simple sauces.  
  • You can make gnocchi with squash, spinach, saffron, prunes, and even cocoa!

Let's Learn About Italy!

Photo by Marina Andrejchenko/Shutterstock.com
  • Italy became a unified country in 1861, only 150 years ago. It is sometimes called "bel paese" or "beautiful country."  
  • Italians invented the piano and the thermometer! 
  • In ancient Roman mythology, two twin brothers named Romulus and Remus founded Rome, Italy's capital city. The myth says the twins were abandoned and then discovered by a she-wolf before being found and raised by a shepherd and his wife. Eventually (and after many exciting adventures), they found themselves at the location of Palatine Hill, where Romulus built "Roma." The Italian wolf became Italy's unofficial national animal. 
  • In the 1930s and 40s, Mussolini, Italy's prime minister, and dictator tried to eliminate all foreign words from the Italian language. How did he do that? He just changed them! For example, in soccer, "goal" became "meta." Disney character names changed, too: Donald Duck became "Paperino;" Mickey Mouse became "Topolino;" and Goofy became "Pippo." Although they're not banned anymore, these words and names have stuck. So now if you go to the Italian Disneyland, called Gardaland Park, you will see Topolino and Pippo! 
  • About 60 million people call Italy home, and it is 116,350 square miles, slightly larger than the US state of Arizona. If you compare that to the United Kingdom, 67 million people live there, and it is about 94,350 square miles. So, the UK is smaller than Italy but has a bigger population! 
  • The Italian flag is green, white, and red. These colors represent hope, faith, and charity.
  • The average Italian eats close to 55 pounds of pasta annually. If you think about how light pasta is, that is a considerable amount! There are more than 500 different types of pasta eaten in Italy today. 

What's It Like to Be a Kid in Italy?

  • Kids begin school at 6 years old. They grow up speaking Italian, but they learn English in school, so many become bilingual in Italian and English.
  • The most popular sport for kids is football (soccer). The Italian word for soccer is "calcio," the same word they use for "kick." A favorite of younger kids is "Rody, the bouncing horse," a plastic horse that a small child can hop onto and bounce around the room. Rody was invented in Italy in 1984.  
  • The family ("la famiglia") is a central characteristic of Italian life. Children have great respect for their older relatives. It is traditional to name the first male child after the grandfather and the first female child after the grandmother.
  • If kids live close to school, they can go home and have lunch with their families! Lunch at school might be pasta, meat with vegetables, a sandwich, or a salad with lots of ingredients. Families typically eat dinner later (7 to 8 pm), so kids end up staying up later, too!
  • Between lunch and dinner, kids often enjoy "merenda," which is an afternoon snack that translates to "something that is deserved." It is really a mini-meal that can include both savory and sweet foods. Examples of savory foods are a salami or mortadella sandwich, a slice of rustic bread rubbed with a cut, raw tomato, or "pizza bianca" (white pizza without tomato sauce). Types of sweet foods eaten during merenda are "gelato" (a lower-fat type of ice cream), any kind of cake, or biscotti dipped in warm milk.

That's Berry Funny

Why did the tomato blush? 

Because he saw the salad dressing!

Lettuce Joke Around

How do you fix a broken tomato? 

Tomato paste!

Lettuce Joke Around

"Knock, knock!

"Who’s there? 

"Noah!

"Noah who? 

"Noah herb named Basil?

Lettuce Joke Around

"I tried to get into my house the other day, but I couldn't. Wanna know why?"

"Because I had gnocchi!"

The Yolk's On You

What did Papa Basil say to Baby Basil?

"Hope you gnocchi how wonderful you are!"

The Yolk's On You

What is a seagull's favorite herb? 

BAY-sil!

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