We just wrapped up our second Kids CAN Cook class at Sarello's on Saturday, an event that has become near and dear to us.

There is something so wonderful about having a dozen or so kids in a room, full of energy and enthusiasm, an eagerness to learn and a passion for cooking. This experience is so high energy and left us in good spirits for the remainder of the weekend, and with kid-friendly food on the brain.

One of our favorite specialties to make with Gio is mini pizzas, which are so easy to make that it almost seems like cheating. But we go the extra mile for these little 'zas, and don't skimp where it counts.Instead of regular packaged mozzarella and pizza sauce, we upgrade our pizzas by using fresh mozzarella and homemade sauce — enhancements that definitely make a difference. In a pinch, we've used a store-bought sauce, but we always use fresh mozzarella.

We use store-made hoagie buns for our mini pizzas, which we slice horizontally to make two individual pizzas. We lay the bread on a sheet pan, face-side up, and spread an even layer of sauce over the top. Mozzarella is the next layer, and instead of slicing the cheese, we prefer to tear it into smaller pieces with our hands, for even melting.

For today's feature, we made a variety of different pizzas, including pepperoni, Italian sausage, a vegetarian loaf with pesto sauce and grilled vegetables and one with Gio's marinated tomato and onion topping. Mini pizzas are a great way to use up all kinds of leftovers, as we did with our French bread supreme pizza featured today. A loaf of regular soft French bread is perfect when using more than three toppings, and fares much better for this purpose than a crusty, artisan-style bread would.

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We raided the refrigerator at Sarello's for our supreme specialty, which included pepperoni, Italian sausage, fresh mozzarella, grilled red and orange peppers, green olives, marinated tomatoes and onion, and even some bacon relish.The pizzas bake in a 375-degree oven for about 12 minutes, until the cheese begins to brown and bubble, and then we slice them into pieces immediately upon removing from the oven.

Our son Gio makes mini pizzas at home on a regular basis, and this simple snack has provided us with a great opportunity to introduce new foods into his diet. In full disclosure, Gio is a wonderfully adventurous eater with a willingness to try new foods. Our parent-friends will roll their eyes and tell us, "well, of course he is — look at his parents."

But he wasn't always like this. He had a dry spell from age 4 to 7 where all he would eat were chicken nuggets, plain pasta (no sauce or olive oil), cheese pizza and toast. To encourage him to broaden his palate, we have a rule that he should try everything, but he doesn't have to finish something he doesn't like. We also started to routinely engage his help in our kitchen so that he was exposed to the fun and empowerment of cooking your own food.

Kids eat better when they know how to cook, and let's be honest — so will their parents. And we're happy to handle the mess, so if you'd like your kids to learn some great new recipes and techniques, we'd love to have them join us for our next Kids CAN Cook class, where they'll learn how to make a variety of great after-school snacks, including mini pizzas.

Mini Pizzas

Makes: 4 pizzas

Ingredients:

2 hoagie buns, sliced in half, lengthwise

1 cup tomato sauce

2 balls fresh mozzarella cheese, torn into pieces

Any 3 toppings you desire

Directions:

Lay the sliced hoagie buns face-side up on a baking sheet, and spread an even layer of tomato sauce over each top. Use your hands to tear the fresh mozzarella into pieces and lay them evenly over the sauce, leaving a little space between each piece for best results.

Top with a layer of your 3 favorite toppings and bake in a 375-degree oven for about 12 minutes, until the cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove from oven, transfer pizzas to a cutting board and immediately cut into slices. Cool for 1 to 2 minutes and serve.

Homemade Pizza Sauce

Ingredients:

1 28-ounce can of whole, peeled tomatoes, pureed

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup yellow onion, finely diced

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon dried oregano

Directions:

Use a blender or food processor to puree the tomatoes; set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a 3-quart pot over medium heat until hot; add the minced garlic, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 2 minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic.

Add the crushed red pepper flakes and diced onion and cook over medium-low heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until onions are translucent. Add the pureed tomatoes, increase heat to medium-high and bring sauce to a boil, stirring often.Reduce heat to medium-low and add ground oregano. Cook at a gentle simmer for 20 minutes, until sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and use immediately, refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Gio's Marinated Tomatoes and Onions

Ingredients:

1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1 cup yellow onions, cut into ½-inch slices

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon dried oregano

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and marinate for 15 to 20 minutes before using.

"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 10-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com and their blog at www.thelostitalian.areavoices.com.