The bar for field trips and group lunches has been set very high for a class of third graders at Larchmont Charter West school in West Hollywood.

As one of the many events sponsored by the Club EATalian campaign, the class was treated to a lunch on Monday at Drago Centro they prepared themselves alongside chef Celestino Drago and instructors from Piccolo Chef, a cooking program for kids. This wasn't just any meal. Chef Drago led a behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen and the dining room before the onset of the midday rush. The students, in turn, impressed him with a platter of vegetables they grew in their own Edible Schoolyard garden. (Some also wondered why there's so much wine visible in the restaurant.)

Not your average school project: part of Larchmont Charter West's Edible Schoolyard yield.; Credit: J. Ritz

Not your average school project: part of Larchmont Charter West's Edible Schoolyard yield.; Credit: J. Ritz

In the restaurant's kitchen, pizza dough was rolled, pasta was pressed over the chitarra, fresh tomatoes were stewed (see recipe below), basil leaves were plucked and fresh pizza toppings were delicately laid out.

Chef Drago extended a cordial invitation for students to return. “If your parents want to take you here, make sure you call Stefano,” he said, pointing to general manager Stefano Trampetti and giving this group the kind of direct access that would make some downtown movers and shakers envious.

Drago, a father of two, seemed to have fun while taking this mission seriously. “Kids love pizza, but we have to teach them pizza isn't just lots of cheese on top and ham or pineapple,” he said, and talked about “the importance of ingredients, and how important it is to eat at the dining table.”

The Italian Ministry of Economic Development in association with the Italian Trade Commission and the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West is sponsoring the Club EATalian initiative. Previous events included a symposium and tasting at the Italian Cultural Center in Westwood with Evan Kleiman and Aida Mollenkamp, and a cooking demo at Le Cordon Bleu Hollywood with Piccolo Chef.

Rich Kane, the lead teacher, said a highlight of the downtown excursion was “the hands-on experience for the kids.” The day was an outgrowth of classroom lessons that have focused on “the Mediterranean diet and family recipes.” His students were recently assigned to complete a family meal that included food shopping, cooking, and perhaps most challenging of all, no distractions from outside media or communications technology. The last part is hardly a minor feat in this age — and likely harder for the parents than the third graders.

[Deals and recipe on the next page.]

Say "[mozzarella di bufala] cheese."; Credit: J. Ritz

Say “[mozzarella di bufala] cheese.”; Credit: J. Ritz

For families interested in participating in the campaign to raise awareness of the obesity epidemic and the importance of authentic Italian ingredients, Club EATatalian is extending an awesome deal from March 26 to April 10. Prix fixe Healthy Mediterranean Menus and free Mediterranean Kids meals for kids will be served at Drago Centro, Angelini Osteria, Il Fornaio's Beverly Hills and Santa Monica locations (first week only), Da Pasquale, Marino, and Toscanova. (Max of two kids up to 12-years-old per family.) It's highly unlikely adults will hear much whining about fresh pizza, pastas and homemade gelati and other traditional Italian desserts. In addition, Piccolo Chef hosts more free Club EATalian cooking classes with limited space, so RSVP ASAP.

In the meantime, take inspiration from the urban farmers and cooks at Larchmont Charter West by making chef Drago's recipe for gli spaghetti alla chitarra al pomodoro e basilico, and see more photos of their deliciously memorable field trip.

Credit: J. Ritz

Credit: J. Ritz

Gli spaghetti alla chitarra al pomodoro e basilico

(Basil spaghetti with tomato and basil sauce)

Yield: 4 portions

For the semolina dough:

2 cups grade 00 flour

2 cups semolina

8 whole eggs

1 bunch basil

1 oz. olive oil

1 oz. white wine

1. Combine all dry ingredients in the Hobart/KitchenAid mixer.

2. Blanch basil leafs in boiling water, and then shock in ice water. Squeeze out excess water.

3. Add blanched basil leafs to eggs, olive oil and white wine. Puree in blender and strain.

4. Slowly add all the wet ingredients until the dough comes together.

5. Refrigerate dough for one hour before using.

6. Using a rolling pin, roll out small portion of dough to thickness desired, and roll over the chitarra with rolling pin to make the spaghetti.

Tomato & basil sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

12 oz. cherry tomatoes

2 garlic cloves thinly

1 teaspoon of fresh oregano leafs chopped

16 medium size basil leafs

pinch of salt & pepper to taste

1. Wash tomatoes and cut into halves.

2. Heat olive oil in saucepan, add all ingredients and cook for 3 minutes. Set aside.

To finish:

Place spaghetti into boiling salted water, cook pasta, strain and toss with warm tomato and basil sauce.

Garnish with fresh basil leaf and serve.

Credit: J. Ritz

Credit: J. Ritz

Credit: J. Ritz

Credit: J. Ritz

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