Lost Italian: Favorite recipes for back-to-school season

Aggression Cookies are made with oats, butter, flour, sugar and are so named because mixing them can work out frustrations. Forum file photo

School is back in session throughout the region, and this week we’re revisiting five of our favorite kid-friendly recipes from past columns.

These are staples in our home, and I’ve paired each specialty with an age group so you can make them with your children — or, even better, let them do the cooking.

Bringing kids into the cooking process is an excellent way to help foster a love of good, healthy food, and you don’t have to wait until they’re a teenager to involve them.

Full supervision is recommended for the first two age groups (pre-K and elementary), and for the older age groups according to your comfort level.


Aggression Cookies: I remember making these oatmeal cookies with my mom when I was in preschool, and they’re called Aggression Cookies because you use your hands to mix the ingredients. The more aggressively you mix, the better the cookies will taste. This is a terrific way to introduce your little ones the feeling of working with food, and kids of all ages will enjoy eating the cookies.


Back-to-School Aggression Cookies

Makes: about 4 dozen


3 cups old-fashioned or quick-cook oats

1 ½ cups flour

1 ½ cups brown sugar, packed

1 ½ cups butter, room temperature (3 sticks)

1 teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda


1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Optional add-ins:

¾ cup plain M&Ms

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¾ cup chocolate chips

½ cup chopped nuts

½ cup coconut

½ cup raisins



Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash hands. Place all the ingredients (except any add-ins) and use your hands to mix them together until well combined. The more you mix, the better the cookies will taste, so be aggressive. Mash! Knead! Pound! When everything is combined, add any add-in components and mix again. For best results, choose just one or two add-ins.

Use a spoon to scoop the batter into walnut-sized pieces, then roll each piece into a round ball. Place balls on an ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart (cookies will spread as they bake).

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 17 minutes, until cookies are a light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack. Store in an airtight container for at least a week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.


Gio’s Meatballs: I created this recipe with Gio when he was in the second grade, and we played around with various versions until we found our perfect meatball mix. This is another great dish for kids to dig their hands into, and we’ve found that the more kids touch and prepare food, the more willing they are to try new foods. Moist, tender and lightly seasoned, these meatballs are a hit with everyone we serve them to, and we’ve heard from many of our readers who enjoy making them with their kids and grandkids.

Fresh cheese is added to spaghetti with Gio's Meatballs. Forum file photo

Gio's Meatballs


1 lb. ground beef

¼ cup milk

1 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs

1 cup Parmesan cheese

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

3 to 4 cups tomato sauce (see tip below)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil; set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the breadcrumbs and milk together. Add the ground beef, cheese, eggs, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper and use your hands to aggressively mix until well combined, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Use your hands or an ice cream scoop to shape the meatballs to desired size (we recommend approx. 1-inch in diameter, which makes about 30 meatballs) and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees until they are cooked through and evenly browned all over, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Serve immediately or add to your favorite tomato sauce and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, turning once or twice. Serve hot.

To store meatballs: Place the meatballs, cooked or uncooked, on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil and freeze until hard to the touch. Once hardened, transfer meatballs to a plastic freezer bag or container, label with the date and freeze for up to 3 months.

Easy Tomato Sauce

Serves: 4 to 6


¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 to 3 large garlic cloves, minced

Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)

28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, pureed

Salt and pepper to taste


In a medium sauce pot, heat olive oil over medium-low heat and saute garlic for about three to five minutes, stirring often and being careful not to brown the garlic. Add the crushed red peppers and saute for another minute.

Add the tomatoes and cook for about 15 minutes over low-medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and cook for another 15-20 minutes. Cover the pot but leave a little room to allow steam to escape.

When the sauce coats the back of a spoon, it's ready to serve. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Middle school

Mini Tortilla Pizzas: We discovered this after-school favorite when Gio was in the seventh grade, and now keep a regular supply of flour tortillas, tomato sauce and cheese on hand for an easy and delicious afternoon snack. These pizzas are simple enough for middle-schoolers to prepare mostly on their own, with supervision recommended when the oven is required.

As the pizza bakes, the tortilla transforms into a thin and crispy-yet-tender crust that is surprisingly strong enough to support a multitude of ingredients. The sky is the limit when it comes to toppings, and we’ve enjoyed everything from simple cheese pizzas, to a topping-packed supreme style pizza, and even a sweet s’mores version.

Tortilla Pizzas are quick and easy to make and can be made in savory or sweet varieties. Forum file photo

Savory Tortilla Pizza

Makes: 2 individual pizzas


2 8-inch flour tortillas

¼ cup pizza sauce

½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese or 1 ½ slices (about 1.5 ounces) of fresh mozzarella, broken into thumb-sized pieces

Toppings as desired

If using fresh basil, add immediately after the pizza is removed from the oven to prevent it from burning.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease lightly with cooking spray and place the 2 tortillas on the sheet.

Place 2 tablespoons of pizza sauce in the center of each tortilla. Use the back of a large spoon to gently work it around the surface of the tortilla, working in circles from the center out to the edges, leaving a ¼-inch border.

Sprinkle a quarter cup of shredded mozzarella around each of the tortillas, leaving a ¼-inch border, until it is evenly coated. If using fresh mozzarella, dot the surface with the torn pieces.

Top with desired toppings and bake in a 400-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes until the cheese is bubbly, fully melted and lightly golden. Oven temperatures vary, so check the pizzas after 8 minutes and adjust time and temp as needed.

Remove from oven and transfer pizzas immediately to a cutting board. Add fresh basil now, if using.

Cut into slices as desired and serve. Leftovers may be refrigerated and reheated in the oven (for best results) until crisp, about 5 minutes.

ARCHIVE: Read more Lost Italian columns and recipes

High school

The Very Best Sloppy Joes: High school life is filled with activities that often require feeding a bunch of hungry teenagers, and having a tasty, reliable, freezer-friendly, big-batch recipe in your arsenal is a must. This recipe for sloppy Joes has been in our family for four generations, and every time I make them, I am asked for the recipe, which can be easily multiplied for large batches. I always make extra to keep in the freezer for those pesky, last-minute, “Mom, I forgot to tell you…” emergencies.

High school life is filled with activities that often require feeding a bunch of hungry teenagers. Sloppy Joes are a perfect choice. Forum file photo

Mathison Family Sloppy Joes (aka Beefburger Barbecues)

Makes: 6 to 8 sandwiches (can be easily doubled, tripled, etc.)


1 pound ground beef

½ cup yellow onions, small-diced

¼ cup green pepper, small-diced

¼ cup celery, small-diced

8-ounce can tomato sauce

¼ cup ketchup

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 tablespoon white sugar

1 ½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper


In a medium or large frying pan, cook the ground beef with the onions over medium heat until the meat is browned and onions translucent. Drain any excess fat from the pan. Add the remaining ingredients, except the salt and pepper, and simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.

If mixture is too thick, add a bit of water; if too thin, keep cooking until desired consistency is achieved. Serve immediately in toasted buns or freeze for up to 3 months. Can be refrigerated for several days.

For large batches: If doubling the recipe, add 1½ tablespoons of sugar; if tripling, add 2 tablespoons.

To freeze: Cool beef mixture completely. Pour into a large plastic freezer bag, place bag in a medium bowl and freeze (once frozen, bowl can be removed). To thaw, simply place the bag in a large saucepan filled with 1 to 2 inches of water and heat over medium-low heat until thawed. Reheat mixture on the stovetop or in the microwave before serving.


Sarah’s Homemade Granola: Granola is one of my favorite breakfast cereals, but the store-bought varieties are often too expensive for a college student’s budget and loaded with less-than-healthy ingredients. This granola recipe is easy to make, delicious, filling and yields enough cereal to be considerably more affordable than a packaged version.

You can vary the recipe by changing the type of nuts and dried fruit or boost its healthy content even more by adding pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

Adding cranberries and sliced almonds to homemade granola offers colors and texture. Forum file photo

Sarah's Homemade Granola


3 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not instant)

3 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon sea or kosher salt

¼ cup cooking oil (canola, vegetable, olive or coconut)

⅓ cup honey

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


½ cup dried cranberries

½ to 1 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted


Preheat oven to 300 degrees, with rack in the center position.

Place the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl and stir to combine; set aside.

Place the oil, honey, syrup and vanilla in a small bowl and whisk until combined. Pour onto the oat mixture and use your hands to mix until all ingredients are incorporated.

Pour the mixture out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and use a rubber spatula to press the oats into an even, single layer. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from oven and stir thoroughly, spreading back into an even layer before returning to oven. Bake until the granola is a light golden brown, about 5 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool sheet on a wire rack until room temperature.

Meanwhile, increase oven temperature to 325 degrees. Place sliced almonds in a single layer on another parchment-lined baking sheet, and toast for about 4 to 5 minutes until lightly golden brown. Remove and transfer almonds to a medium bowl to cool.

Once the granola has cooled, add the dried cranberries and toasted almonds and toss lightly to combine. Store in an airtight container for 3 to 4 weeks, or freeze for up to 2 months.

Sarah's Tips:

  • Make your own trail mix by mixing the granola with a half-cup each of any of the following ingredients; 2 additional dried fruits, toasted coconut, a hearty nut like peanuts or cashews, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, pretzels and chocolate candies or dark chocolate chips.
  • Package in decorative jars to give as gifts.
  • Granola can become quite sticky as it bakes, but parchment paper will make stirring it easier and prevent a messy clean-up.
  • When cooking with honey, coat the measuring cup with oil or cooking spray to keep it from sticking to the cup.
  • Sliced almonds toast quickly, so we prefer to toast them separate from the granola to prevent burning.

Do you have a favorite kid-friendly recipe you’d be willing to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you. Please send your recipe to me by email to
Good luck to all the students out there, and happy cooking.

Recipe Time Capsule:

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at

Related Topics: FOODRECIPES
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