Middle school chefs compete to add pasta recipes to AISD menus


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Seven teams of middle school culinary students compete Friday to get the pasta dishes they came up with on Austin Independent School District lunch menus next school year.

This is the third annual Diced and Sliced competition and last year, Bedichek Middle School won with their team’s taco recipe. The district prepared it during National School Lunch Week, serving up some 19,000 tacos created by the eighth-grade chefs.

This year, the competition required some type of pasta, a homemade sauce, and some sort of protein. Bedichek will try to repeat its win as a team of three seventh-graders saute and season its way to a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.

“It’s something that everyone likes,” team member Elizabeth Garcia said. 

The judges sure did. Garcia, along with teammates Dilyhan Escobedo and Berenice Garcia, beat out several groups of classmates in the school competition to make it to the finals. Each of the seven finalists competing Friday represents a different middle school.

“We were happy,” Garcia said, “but at the same time we couldn’t believe it.”

The competition takes place at 10:15 a.m. at Austin Community College’s Eastview Campus. The winning dish will be used in some way on lunch menus district-wide next school year.

“We have to make adaptions to make sure that we’re following federal nutrition guidelines, but we try to sustain the recipe as much as we can,” said Lindsey Bradley, marketing specialist for AISD’s nutrition and food services.

Judges tasted 53 pasta dishes during the school competitions and selected one from each campus to go on to the finals. 

The Bedichek students were worried their recipe would be too simple for the judges, but their teacher had a different concern.

“I remember at first being like, ‘Oh, they want to attempt spaghetti and meatballs in an hour?” Sarah Bell Dickserson, Bedichek’s family consumer science teacher, said. “And then when I tasted it, I was thinking, ‘Okay, this is really good.'”

She’s been preparing her students for the competition all year, teaching them not just how to cook, but why they prepare things a certain way.

The cooking contest is a good opportunity for her kids because it offers them a chance to cook for others. 

“You have different standards for what you’ll eat versus what you’ll serve to people,” she said.

The Bedichek teammates are nervous about competing Friday, but they have a plan for who’s going to prepare different parts of the dish and they’re hopeful their recipe will impress the panel of judges.

“We’ll just go with the same attitude we did last year,” Bell Dickerson said. “We’re here to have fun. Whatever happens, it’s a good experience.”

Try the girls’ recipe below:

For the sauce:

  • Ingredients
    • 2 tbsp olive oil
    • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
    • 5 cloves garlic, minced
    • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
    • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
    • 6 oz tomato paste
    • 28 ounces crushed tomato
    • 1 1/2 tsp dried basil
    • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
    • 1 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • Instructions
    • Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
    • Add the onions and garlic and season with salt, pepper, and the red pepper flakes.
    • Cook until soft and caramelized, about 15 minutes.
    • Set aside 1/4 cup of the cooked onions and garlic for the meatballs and let cool.
    • Stir the tomato paste into the onions and cook until browned and aromatic, 3 to 5 minutes.
    • Add the crushed tomatoes, dried basil, dried oregano, and dried parsley. Stir together and bring to a boil.
    • Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for at least 30 minutes.

For the meatballs:

  • Ingredients
    • 1 lb ground beef
    • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
    • 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
    • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
    • 1 large egg, beaten
    • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
    • 2 tbsp milk
    • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • Instructions
    • Preheat oven to 425F. Set a wire rack over a baking sheet and grease with nonstick spray.
    • In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, ground pork, reserved onion and garlic mixture, bread crumbs, ricotta, parsley, egg, parmesan, milk, salt and pepper. Mix with your hands until well combined.
    • Shape about 1 ounce of meat at a time into balls and set on the prepared wire rack.
    • Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes, until the outsides are browned and the centers are tender and juicy and reach about 155F.

Add cooked pasta to sauce to completely coat noodles. Serve with grated parseman and chopped parsley.

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