Gia Daniella learned to cook from her mother, Giovanna Blattermann, a first-generation American who moved from Sicily to Baltimore's Little Italy as a girl. Today, Gia passes along that knowledge to her children in the kitchen of Café Gia, the Little Italy restaurant she owns with her mom.
Gia's children, 4-and-a-half-year-old Luca and 10-month-old Giada, help her in small ways as she teaches them the ins and outs of Italian cuisine. "Luca loves setting the table while I do extensive cooking," she said. "I'll ask him to get me tongs or wooden spoons – he's my little gopher. And he likes to clean up – that comes in handy!"
Both Luca and Giada love pasta and meatballs. They help Gia form the meatballs, digging in (with clean hands) and creating different shapes with their fingers.
Gia is also a realist when it comes to kiddie cuisine. Giada is a great eater right now, she says, but Luca can be pickier. "My son is a very well-versed eater, but some days he'll want to eat only vegetables and other days, he won't want any." She gets creative, incorporating peas or finely chopped carrots into the meatball mix, to ensure he eats a balanced diet.
For busy parents, Gia recommends serving this sauce and meatballs over store-bought pasta – she prefers the Barilla brand (and Luca prefers the cheese tortellini). "There's so much variety in pasta shapes and meat choices these days," she says. "To mix it up, I cook farfalle, fusilli or any other fun shape. The kids just love it!"
Luca's Favorite Meatballs
Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer
For the meatballs:
¼ pound ground beef
¼ pound ground pork
¼ pound ground veal
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
Dash of salt and pepper
½ cup Italian breadcrumbs
¾ cup Parmigiano cheese, divided
2 tablespoons dried Italian herbs, chopped (oregano, thyme, sage, basil, rosemary and marjoram)
1 large egg, beaten
½ cup milk
1 cup water