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Prepping Pasta: Summer School Students Cook Up Pasta and Learn Its Gastronomic History

What’s your go-to easy meal? For many people, pasta might be the first answer. Just boil some spaghetti, add tomato sauce, and you’re ready to go. 

But if you ask any of the 80 students who took the Summer@Prep Pasta Making course, pasta is more than just spaghetti or penne. In fact, there are between 300-600 pasta types that reflect the region, the geography, and the culture from where they originate. 

Using over 100 pounds of flour across the four classes, students made a variety of pastas, making fresh egg dough and vegan dough each week, cutting noodles by hand and with a machine, and discovering how creative and cultural expression comes through unique flavors, color, and texture. 

“They learned to make noodles, ravioli, and small shapes like fusilli, orrechiette, and farfalle, as well as lesser-known types or what I call ‘deep Italy’ shapes from Puglia and Sardinia, like folgie al olivo (olive leaf) and mallorreddus (little bulls),” the class’s instructor and Prep French teacher Dr. Lauren Van Arsdall shares. They made fillings that catered to both dairy-friendly and dairy-free diets, mixed their own pesto Genovese, learned that adding squid ink or beets can create gorgeously-hued dough, and even designed their own pasta shapes. 

Left: Instructor Dr. Lauren Van Arsdall demonstrates making dough into spirals.


Dr. Van Arsdall wanted students to experience cooking without any computer on hand, and to make connections with each other and foods from other cultures. “They initially resisted to no screens, but came to enjoy writing, drawing, and sketching their ideas, as well as maps of Italy—their geography skills improved in this process,” she says. “Some of our goals were to work with our hands and get away from screens—plus develop hand-eye coordination, work with each other, make connections to our own cultures, create new pasta shapes at the end of the course, and laugh and learn while focusing on a task.” 

The students set up shop in the Bachmann Collaboration Building’s Science Classroom, just steps away from the Makerspace, which they also used to tinker with their pasta machines and rollers. 

“When ‘design day’ arrived, they had to think up a new shape that would also pass the criteria of being bite-size, visually appealing, cookable, and named in a poetic way,” Van Arsdall says. “The kids applied engineering principles like surface area to volume ratios to their pasta designs.” 

The most rewarding anecdote Van Arsdall received? “A parent took her son to Piccolo in South Pasadena, and he told his parents he could make all the pastas on the menu.” 

Maybe soon you might see a pop-up Prep Pasta shop on campus!