Sun-dried tomato-sautéed zucchinis, onions and broccolini stems atop of a bed of al dente spaghetti pasta, mixed with fresh veggies and sprinkled with parmesan cheese.
Sound delicious? It should, considering this particular, healthy dish is an award-winning one – and no, the chef behind it isn’t a Michelin-starred one.
This was the creation of 9-year-old northern Scottsdale resident and Sonoran Sky Elementary School student David Hummert, who recently won the Walk On! Kids Cooking Challenge.
The Walk On! Kids Cooking Challenge is part of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona's Nourishing Arizona initiative, which aims to improve the health of Arizonans through nutrition education and healthy eating programs.
Throughout the month of January, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona asked kids throughout the state to create a healthy, tasty recipe.
And the kids didn’t disappoint.
“Since we started the contest nine years ago, we’ve received hundreds of entries,” said Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona’s Health Promotion Executive, Myrna Collins.
David was the youngest of the five finalists.
“They didn’t shy away from the healthiest part of the requirement and went above and beyond the minimum requirement of one fruit or vegetables,” Collins said. “Each of these students created a unique recipe that incorporated lots of fruits and vegetables.”
David’s dish was called Broccolini Pasta – a family friend’s recipe he and his mother, Eileen McConnell, tweaked for the contest.
“We have a friend who has a pasta [dish] like this, but then we made it better: We added more vegetables,” David said. “It'll get kids to eat broccoli!”
That’s David’s No. 1 goal: to help kids – including his younger brother – eat healthier meals.
“I don't know what my friends eat, but my brother needs to start eating veggies. He only eats mac 'n' cheese and chicken nuggets,” David said.
David entered the contest because he wanted a new bike; the winner receives a new bike and bike accessories.
Plus, he was confident he had a winning recipe.
“He told me when we went [to Talking Stick Resort Arena], ‘Mom, I'm going to win this.’ And I was like, ‘I don't know, David. What makes you think you're going to win it?’ He said, ‘Everything,’” McConnell said with a laugh. “Yeah, he's pretty confident.”
The finalists described their dish to a stadium full of Suns fans on Feb. 4.
“He got to wear a chef hat at one of the Suns games, and they made a hundred tastings of each of the five dishes, and they got to talk about it,” McConnell said.
David added, “I liked going to all the Suns game and getting the chef hat.”
The winner of the cooking challenge was determined by a public online vote.
In addition to being healthy, all recipes had to qualify as a side dish as well.
“The dish has wonderful flavor!” Collins said. “Plus, it has a great array of veggies, mixed with whole grain pasta in the side-dish size portion making it a healthy choice.”
Collins continued, “The recipe is nutritious, tastes good and he really sold it in his request for votes.”
David learned how to cook – specifically salads and desserts – from his parents.
“We cook a lot, and he understands the value of good food,” McConnell said.
She admits, however, that David likes to “eat more than he likes to cook,” but when he does, his go-to dishes are the winning broccolini pasta and pancakes.
McConnell is proud of David for winning, though throughout the process, she and the rest of the parents emphasized to their respective children that it doesn’t matter who wins the cooking challenge.
It was more so about meeting new people and the journey.
“Everything he was doing was a fun adventure. He got a special chef apron that has the Sun's logo on it and that was already winning, you know?” she said. “Even if he didn’t win, it was still fun to try.”
David would do the cooking challenge again for two reasons.
“It's fun, and it'll get [kids] to start eating salads,” he said.
The whole experience of the Walk On! Kids Cooking Challenge was a positive one for David and his mom. McConnell said they bonded in the process.
And that’s exactly the point of this challenge, according to Collins.
“One of the best parts of having kids in the kitchen is the quality family time that is a result,” she said. “Kids that are part of the meal planning and preparation process are more likely to try new and unfamiliar healthy foods.”
The cooking challenge is also part of the Walk On! Challenge, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona’s health education program available for free to all schools in Arizona.
Currently, 200 schools participate in the challenge every February, but Collins said they “want every school in Arizona to benefit.”
If You Make It:
David’s Broccolini Pasta
- 12 ounces whole-grain spaghetti
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 small heads broccolini, the tree part cut into large pieces and the stems diced
- 1/2 onion diced
- 1 zucchini diced
- 4 ounces sundried tomatoes in olive oil
- 4 tbsp shredded parmesan cheese
- Prepare spaghetti following instructions on package. Add a little olive oil so that the pasta doesn’t stick and salt the water a little.
- When the pasta is ready, drain in a colander and cover with a paper towel to keep warm.
- While the pasta is cooking, sauté the zucchini, onion and broccolini stems on medium-low heat in a large pan.
- Stir while they brown for about 5-7 minutes.
- Then, add the broccolini “trees” and saute for 4 minutes until cooked, then add the sun-dried tomatoes to the large sauté pan. Stir all together.
- Add the pasta into the large sauté pan and stir together with the vegetable mixture.
- Top with parmesan cheese, and season with salt and pepper to taste.