Delizioso! W Culinary Camp wraps up with a taste of 'Little Italy' (and a patriotic flair)

July 2, 2014 10:28:33 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


There was a bit of Italia in the air Friday at Mississippi University for Women's Culinary Arts Institute. On the final day of this summer's MUW Culinary Camp for Kids, participants in the seventh through 12th grades prepared an Italian-themed luncheon for parents and friends, presenting demos of each course. Campers' acquired skills were showcased in the menu of Italian salad with lemon vinaigrette, spaghetti and meatballs, cheese ravioli, herb and cheese breadsticks and chocolate chip cannoli. The lunch gave campers a chance to replay one of their favorite sessions from earlier in the week -- Pasta Day. 


"Pasta Day is always a big hit among all ages!" said Culinary Camp Director Mary Helen Hawkins. "I think most students associate pasta with something dried in bags or found in cans at the grocery store. To actually make the pasta dough themselves, and cut and prepare it, is not only educational, but lots of fun." 


Tinsley Brooks of Columbus has gotten pretty good at making pasta: this is his 14th summer to attend Culinary Camp.  


"Over the years I think I've made everything, from pasta to creme brulee," the 18-year old said. "I think I'll be able to take care of myself when I go off to college." The Heritage Academy graduate, the son of Dr. James and Rosemarie Brooks, plans to attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham this fall. His favorite session at camp is Breakfast Day. "I absolutely love that day," he laughed. 




Start them young 


Giving aspiring young cooks a solid foundation is the goal of MUW's camp. This June, four week-long sessions provided a total of 75 youth in second through 12th grades hands-on experience in learning about appliances, safety, meal planning and even etiquette.  


"Each week we began with rules of the kitchen, safety and sanitation, and there's nothing like seeing the kids' eyes light up when they find out they are allowed to use a 10-inch chef's knife and a blow torch on the very first day," said Chef Hawkins. Both of those items, of course, are used under close supervision.  


When it comes to knives, "I try to place emphasis on a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife, because of the force used to cut with," Hawkins remarked. "I also explain to them how to hold the knife while walking and that a falling knife has no handle and why. I am happy to say that every child left with the same amount of fingers and toes that they came with!"  


Campers also focused on following recipes, proper measurements, team building, execution and plating of dishes and clean-up. Recipes and challenges were tailored to each age group. Every day had a theme: Breakfast Day; Little Italy (Pasta Day); Mexican Fiesta (complete with pinata); cake decorating; and "graduation" day, as parents attended their Italian luncheon and toured the facility. 


Culinary Camp chef's assistant and culinary arts student Stefanie Watkins of Batesville praised the campers. The final week's group, with older students, was especially satisfying to work with. Several participants, like Brooks, brought kitchen experience to camp. Many of them have cooked, watched their parents cook or followed cooking shows on TV, noted Watkins. "The best part is seeing the children really interested in some of the recipes and having them ask to do special recipes." 


Camp chef's assistant Stacy Adams, sporting a red chef's cap embroidered with his name, graduated from the Culinary Arts Institute in May. A few campers may be a little shy at the beginning of their camp week, he said. But as the week progresses, Adams sees them transform as they get to know their team members and get caught up in the cooking. "It's great to see them coming out of their shells," he smiled. "And this group in particular was very eager to learn. They especially liked pasta and cake days." Almost every cake Friday was decorated with Independence day in mind. 


Like other campers, 13-year-old Armstrong Middle School student Joy Nabors picked up her patriotic cake to take home Friday as camp came to an end. Cake Day was her favorite session, but she enjoyed making the Italian luncheon, too. 


Her parents, Dr. Ben and Misty Nabors, bragged on the meal as they mingled with other campers and their families afterward. 


"I will cook some at home now," said Joy, who thinks she might like to attend the Culinary Arts Institute when she is older, and perhaps become a chef one day.  


In the meantime, she is planning to return to kids' camp in 2015, where the next generations of home and professional cooks are learning all the right ingredients. 


Editor's note: To learn about next summer's Culinary Camp, contact MUW's Culinary Arts Institute, 662-241-7472. 






Makes 1 pound 




3 large eggs 


2 cups all-purpose flour 


1 tablespoon olive oil 


1 teaspoon kosher salt 


Fresh herbs, spinach, optional 




  • Combine eggs, oil and salt in food processor; pulse to combine. Add flour and process until a ball forms. Place the dough in a food storage bag and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes. This also prevents the dough from drying out. Dough made by hand takes a little longer to make, but yields a very tender product. Fresh pasta may be refrigerated up to 4 days and frozen up to 1 month. 


    (Source: Recipe adapted from The Viking Cooking School) 






    Makes 4 servings 




    1 recipe fresh pasta dough, rolled out into sheets 


    1 1/2 cups Boursin cheese 


    Water, as needed 


    Ravioli forms 


    Fresh herbs for garnish 




  • Place one sheet of dough over the ravioli metal frame. 


  • Press dough into frame with the indented form. 


  • Fill pouches with Boursin cheese. Brush with water in between ravioli. Place a second sheet of pasta dough over sheet with Boursin cheese. Use a rolling pin to apply pressure to seal and cut ravioli. Tap to remove ravioli from form. 


  • Repeat procedure until dough and filling are used. Place ravioli on a heavily floured cookie sheet and let dry for 1 hour; turn ravioli over and let dry another hour. (Ravioli may be frozen at this point.) Thaw before cooking. Cook ravioli until tender (cooking time will vary with thickness of dough). Drain and serve with pomodoro sauce, with garnish if desired.  


    (Source: Courtesy of Chef Mary Helen Hawkins) 






    Makes 4-6 servings 




    1 puff pastry sheet, cut into 3/4-inch strips 


    1 cup freshly grated parmesan 


    1 to 2 teaspoons dried basil or fresh herbs from herb garden 


    1/4 teaspoon garlic powder 


    1/4 cup butter, melted 




  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper for easy clean-up. 


  • In a shallow dish, combine cheese, basil or herb of choice, and garlic. Brush pastry sticks with melted butter. Roll pastry in cheese mixture, lightly coating each side.  


  • Twist and bake pastry strips for 10 to 12 minutes. 


    (Source: Courtesy of Chef Mary Helen Hawkins 






    Makes 15 




    15 ounces mascarpone cheese 


    1/4 cup granulated sugar 


    4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder 


    1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract 


    1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon orange zest 


    1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips 


    15 premade small cannoli shells 


    Heavy cream, if needed 


    Chopped nuts, mini chocolate chips, sprinkles, for garnish, optional 


    Confectioners' sugar, if desired 




  • Combine mascarpone cheese, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla and orange peel; fold in mini chocolate chips. Cover and chill for 30 minutes. If mixture is too thick to pipe add heavy cream to thin mixture. 


  • Spoon filling into a piping bag with a large open star or round tip. Pipe filling into cannoli shells. Dip each end of the cannoli in chopped chocolate or your choice of garnish. Cover and chill up to 1 hour. Just before serving, sift powdered sugar over cannoli if desired. 


    (Source: Courtesy of Chef Mary Helen Hawkins)

    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.