Gia Daniella learned to cook from her mother, Giovanna Blattermann, a first-generation American who moved from Sicily to Baltimore's Little Italy as a girl. Today, Gia passes along that knowledge to her children in the kitchen of Café Gia, the Little Italy restaurant she owns with her mom.
Gia's children, 4-and-a-half-year-old Luca and 10-month-old Giada, help her in small ways as she teaches them the ins and outs of Italian cuisine. "Luca loves setting the table while I do extensive cooking," she said. "I'll ask him to get me tongs or wooden spoons – he's my little gopher. And he likes to clean up – that comes in handy!"
Both Luca and Giada love pasta and meatballs. They help Gia form the meatballs, digging in (with clean hands) and creating different shapes with their fingers.
Gia is also a realist when it comes to kiddie cuisine. Giada is a great eater right now, she says, but Luca can be pickier. "My son is a very well-versed eater, but some days he'll want to eat only vegetables and other days, he won't want any." She gets creative, incorporating peas or finely chopped carrots into the meatball mix, to ensure he eats a balanced diet.
For busy parents, Gia recommends serving this sauce and meatballs over store-bought pasta – she prefers the Barilla brand (and Luca prefers the cheese tortellini). "There's so much variety in pasta shapes and meat choices these days," she says. "To mix it up, I cook farfalle, fusilli or any other fun shape. The kids just love it!"
Luca's Favorite Meatballs
Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer
For the meatballs:
¼ pound ground beef
¼ pound ground pork
¼ pound ground veal
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
Dash of salt and pepper
½ cup Italian breadcrumbs
¾ cup Parmigiano cheese, divided
2 tablespoons dried Italian herbs, chopped (oregano, thyme, sage, basil, rosemary and marjoram)
1 large egg, beaten
½ cup milk
1 cup water
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large bowl, mix all of the meat. Add garlic, salt and pepper, bread crumbs and ½ cup of cheese (the remainder will be used on the finished product). Knead with both hands until all ingredients are blended together. Add the herbs and egg and knead. Add the milk and knead until smooth. (Gia's son Luca loves getting his hands into the meat – she makes sure they're clean first!)
- After the ingredients are blended together, start balling the meatballs – they should weigh about 1 ½ to 2 ounces each.
- Spray a cookie sheet with deep sides with butter spray. Place meatballs about an inch apart on cookie sheet.
- After the sheet is full, add one cup of tap water.
- Bake meatballs in oven for 7 to 8 minutes, until medium well. Then move onto the next stage with the marinara sauce.
For the marinara sauce:
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium white onions, peeled and chopped
4 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 16-ounce can plum tomatoes
4 basil leaves, gently torn apart
- In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until caramelized, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic and lightly saute until fragrant, about one minute (do not burn the garlic).
- Add the tomatoes, turn the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Using a hand blender, puree the sauce until smooth.
- Gently drop meatballs into the sauce, one by one, so they do not splatter.
- Cook for another 30 minutes.
- Just prior to removing from stove, add basil pieces.
About the Chef
Born and raised in Little Italy, Gia Daniella decamped to Los Angeles for a few years after college, but returned to open Café Gia (410 South High Street, Baltimore, 410-685-6727) in her home neighborhood with her mother, a native Sicilian who moved to Baltimore as a girl. At home they cook the traditional Italian food they grew up with.
For more information about Café Gia, visit www.cafegias.com
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What did you think of the taste?
What surprised you most while cooking?
What did you learn about cooking while making this recipe
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