"Has everybody got something to do?" asks chef Tom Connin who, like his students at Kids Kitchen Camp, is wearing a long white apron. "Okay, you make the dessert."
The large institutional kitchen buzzes with activity. Mark Holmfeld, 11, rolls up salami for the antipasto. Jamal Stringfellow, 10, wipes mushrooms with a paper towel for the funghi and fagiolini saute. Several kids pick spinach for the agnolotti, and Buffy Lambert, 11, and Anne Duley, 10, argue over which one of them is going to chop the onions for the meatballs for this all-Italian meal.
"Cut the onion about the size of your little fingernail, but make sure your fingers don't get cut," Connin instructs the loser of the argument.
"When the water comes to a boil, put the spinach in," says Ed Koenke, a senior student at Kids Kitchen Camp's parent organization the Culinary School of Washington and a cook at an Alexandria restaurant, tells some other students.
"We're making the sauce for the -- what's it called? -- agnolotti. It's like spinach ravioli,' explains Jenny Halpern, 13.
"We're going to saute the chicken," says Tim Freeman, 16.
"Till it gets golden brown," finishes Jon Battle, 17, who, like tim, is taking the course to see if he wants to become a professional chef.
The kids are eager and the pace is frenetic, but Connin orchestrates with confidence.
"Everybody listen," he commands. "It's time to start making pasta. We're going to make pasta two ways, because everybody doesn't have a pasta machine . . . With basic pasta dough, you can make spaghetti, lasagna, fettucine . . ."
When the kids have mixed the flour, eggs, salt, olive oil and water, they take turns kneading the dough.
"It should all be sticking together, but not to your hand," says Connin."If it sticks to your hands, there's too much water."
When the dough is ready, half of it and half the group go to the pasta machine to crank out spaghetti and fettucine and hang it up to dry. The pasta made by hand is not quite so uniform, but after a brief stay in boiling water -- "this kind of pasta only takes two minutes to cook" -- both versions are put to the taste test and pronounced identical.
While the pasta cooks and drains, Connin opens a can of anchovies for the antispasto tray. Christol Moore, 10, grimaces at the aroma, but Connin grins.
"I'm no fool," he says. "I brought anchovies because I know kids don't like them, but I do."
The pace is quickening; the lunch hour is approaching; and everybody is getting hungry. Buffy pops one of the mushrooms Jamal has just sauteed into her mouth. John McGuire, 14, chomps on store-bought Italian bread as he carries a tray to the dining room. Miraculously, everything is ready on time. The sauce is ladled over the souvrana dipollo valdosta; the funghi are mixed with the fagiolini and the spaghetti is gently tossed with the meatballs. The tables are set and everyone lines up to try the Italian feast.
"How does everybody like the food?" asks Connin.
"Great -- we made it!" replies Sharon Lambert, 14.
"The important thing is the exposure," Connin tells a visitor. "Maybe when their parents suggest going out to eat, instead of saying 'Let's go to McDonalds,' these kids will say 'Let's go out for Italian food." Here are some recipes for the Italian dishes the kids made. PASTA WITHOUT A MACHINE 1 cup flour 1 egg 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon olive oil 1 cup water Mix all ingredients except the water in a bowl. Add the water a little at a time until the dough is pliant but not too soft. Knead with your hands on a floured board. If the dough sticks to your hand, add a little flour. Rool out the dough them fold it into a loose jellyroll and refrigerate for about 15 minutes. With a sharp knife, preferably a fluted knife, slice the jellyroll into pasta strips. Cook in boiling salted water for about two minutes. AntipastoL Salami, thinly sliced Olives, preferably Italian black olives Radishes Celery Carrots Provolone cheese, sliced Anchovies Lettuce (iceberg, leaf or romaine) 1/3 cup olive oil 2/3 cup red wine vinegar Arrange first eight ingredients on platter and sprinkle dressing on top. Serve with French bread. CAULIFLOWER FRITE the blanched florets of one head cauliflower 1/3 cup flour 2 eggs 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese 1 T. chopped parsley Tossed all ingredients till batter forms. Fry in 1/2 inch of oil at 350 degrees F. until golden brown. Serve immediately. SOVRANA DI POLLO VALDOSTANA 4 chicken breasts 4 slices prosciutto 8 oz. mozarella cheese 1 can tomato sauce (or 1 cup of your homemade tomato sauce) 2 oz. oil 1 pinch salt 1 pinch pepper Heat oil in saute pan; add chicken breasts and saute until golden brown. Place chicken on a plate and cover with prosciutto and mozarella cheese; place in oven until cheese is melted. Pour tomato sauce on top and serve. FETTUCINI ALFREDO 1 lb. cooked fettucini pasta 1 pint heavy cream (whipping cream) 4 oz. fresh grated Parmesan cheese 6 oz. butter salt, pepper, fresh nutmeg -- to taste Heat cream. Add butter and cheese. Toss with pasta. Garnish with chopped parsley. FUNGHI E FAGIOUNI SAUTE (sauteed mushrooms and string beans) 2 cups quartered mushrooms 1/2 lb. string beans 1/4 cup olive oil 4 cloves finely chopped garlic 1/8 cup chopped parsley Cook string beans in lightly salted boiling water until tender yet crisp and not soggy. Melt butter with olive oil in a large frying pan. Add mushrooms and saute until golden brown. Add string beans and garlic and saute 3 to 5 minutes. Add parsley and serve.