Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sundays with Sparky - Knife skills - chopped pasta salad

My next teaching project was predicated on Sparky's interest (not surprisingly, where little boys’ interests most often lie) in sharp objects; he'd asked to learn to use a knife. After sweating a bit, and then investing in a pair of small Kevlar cut-resistant gloves (see below,) I agreed.

Since he’s already learned the basics of pasta “Salty like the sea, Mom!” I carefully sharpened up our knives, and decided the best beginning for a young surgeon was to make a chopped pasta salad. After cooking and rinsing the pasta, we started with cucumbers, simply sliced. Mom peeled the cucumber by cutting it in half, standing it on the flat surface, and cutting the peel off the sides, and then Sparky took over with his gloves on and Mom nervously standing by. With any rounded surface, cut so you have a flat side (in this case, in half the long way) to place against the cutting board, as otherwise both your knife and veggie might slip. To slice, hold the cucumber with your non-dominant hand curled into a claw shape, so your knuckles but not fingertips are exposed to the knife (the gloves were a bit long, so we had to be extra careful to curl in the excess fingertips.) Using either a pulling or pushing motion (rather than directly down,) draw the knife across the cucumber cut it into slices.

(Note: Mommy is not using proper knife technique as she holds her hand over Sparky's to guide)

Onion: slice as above. Though we could have made our life easier by first making a series of cuts perpendicular to the slices, I wanted to show Sparky how to use the shape of the chef’s knife to chop: I had him hold the knife at it's tip (to get a feel for the tip staying on the cutting board) and the handle, and rock the handle so the heel goes up and down across the onion slices until they were the desired size, leaving the tip on the board.

Green pepper: noting that peppers are slightly square, locate a flat side. Stand the pepper with the stem upwards (ours stood nicely, but you may need to cut a small slice off the bottom to make a flat surface for your board.) Slice the flat side completely off the pepper which leaves the seeds and rib behind.

Do this for 3 sides, then lay the pepper cut side down, so the stem is parallel to the cutting board for the last side. Slice the flat lobes into strips.

Tomato (sorry, no pic): Mom cored it by making a curved cut at an angle all the way around the stem, so the core comes out in a little cone (easier with a small, sharp paring knife.) Like all round objects, cut in half so you can put a flat surface against the board. Cut into strips and then cubes (with a roma tomato, we just made 4 cuts the long way and then turned it to make 5 or so more cuts against the strips; I don’t bother seeding tomatoes, I like the extra liquid in a salad.

Garlic: lay on cutting board, and lay knife blade over; give a sharp whack with your fist, being sure to avoid the blade; this loosens the papery skin. Remove skin and hard root end. Pour small amount of coarse salt on garlic and, pressing the flat side of your knife tip into the garlic (again, avoiding the blade,) grind salt and garlic into the cutting board. Chop the paste and grind again until it is fine enough to be mixed into your vinaigrette.

Simple garlic vinaigrette: put mashed garlic and salt in your salad dressing container. Cover with about 2 tbsps of vinegar and a squirt (about a tsp) of Dijon mustard. Add about ¼ cup of olive oil. Mix in herbs: pick & rinse tender tops of desired fresh herbs: we used marjoram, lemon basil, chives and parsley. Roll them together into a tight longish ball. Use scissors to snip small bits into the vinaigrette. Put all ingredients, including cooked rinsed and cooled pasta, and rinsed canned canellini beans, into a large bowl and toss well. Garnish with pretty herb tops.


Merry said...

Looks like a great recipe! I love the idea of the kevlar gloves....definitely the way to keep all your digits while teaching kids to use knives!

Michele Hays said...

Thanks, Merry! - We do love the gloves, and still use them today!

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