Italy the destination for Week 4 of Kids Cooking Club

Welcome to Week 4 of the Star-Telegram's summer Kids Cooking Club!

Each week for six weeks in the Thursday Your Life section, we present a different local chef working in the kitchen with kids, as well as the chef's recipes. The goal is to have kids cook their way through the recipes (with some parental guidance), take a few notes and maybe even shoot a photo or two. At the end of the summer, club members will receive an official certificate of completion.

This week, we're featuring recipes and ideas from Melissa Weiner, owner-chef at the Fort Worth location of Young Chefs Academy. A Fort Worth native and former special education teacher, Chef Melissa went to culinary school before opening the kids cooking school on the west side of town in 2008. Her classes offer numerous lessons, including how to have fun in the kitchen. Put on your aprons and enjoy this week's class.

Meet the chef

Melissa Weiner

Executive chef and owner, Young Chefs Academy, Fort Worth

With assistance from a class of seven students.

During the summer, Chef Melissa teaches a different three-day program each week at the school's Camp Can-I-Cook. Classes are two hours long for campers ages 4 to 6 and three hours for ages 7 and up. There's a new theme each week, with several recipes learned each day; Italian was the theme when we stopped by to watch class in progress.

The biscotti were already baking, and we found the kids working on the pasta dough that would become ravioli. Chef Melissa showed the kids how to use a giant fork for blending the dough, instructing each member of the group to stir it five times and then pass to the next person to stir, so that everyone had a chance to understand how working the dough feels. When the kids began kneading the dough on the table top, she sprinkled flour on their hands and the table like fairy dust.

During the fast-paced class, during which the kids would also make marinara sauce and focaccia bread, Chef Melissa had the kids refer to the lesson plan and talk about the instructions out loud to reinforce the order in which tasks take place.

The classes teach kids organization and patience, along with leadership and teamwork. Chef Melissa points out that that special-needs people benefit, too. "Kids with autism and Asperger's blossom in here because it builds self-esteem and they don't have to compete," she says.

Here are two recipes from the class we visited. Serve the marinara over your favorite pasta and enjoy the biscotti for dessert.

Marinara sauce

Makes 2 1/2 cups

1 tablespoon chicken broth

1/3 cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 (16-ounce) can chopped tomatoes

1 (16-ounce) can tomato paste

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/3 teaspoon basil

1/2 teaspoon parsley

1 bay leaf

1. Place broth, onion and garlic in microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes or until onions and garlic are tender.

2. Transfer to a saucepan, add remaining ingredients and cook on the stove top at low heat for at least 15 minutes, up to 1 hour. Stir occasionally. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Chocolate-dipped biscotti

Makes 3 dozen

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon orange zest

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 eggs

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted

2 ounces white chocolate

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat together the first six ingredients (sugar through eggs) with an electric mixer. Stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

2. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough until smooth. Divide dough in half and shape each half into a 10-inch-by-13-inch rectangle.

3. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes.

4. Cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Place slices, cut-side down, on cookie sheet. Bake again for about 15 minutes, turning once, until crisp and light brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet and cool completely on wire rack.

5. Dip one end of each cookie into melted chocolate. Place on waxed paper until the chocolate is firm. Place white chocolate in small zippered plastic bag. Heat in the microwave at 10-second intervals. Knead baggie until the chocolate is melted. Snip off a tiny piece from the corner of the bag and drizzle white chocolate over the dark chocolate.