Ayla Holgate may be in middle school, but her kitchen skills are anything but amateur.
The eighth-grader at Abington Heights Middle School has always loved cooking, spending time in the kitchen with her grandmother and watching cooking shows. Then a few years ago, her aunt gifted her a cooking class at Vintage Kitchen, now in Scranton, which she fell in love with.
There, under the direction of owner and teacher Sandi Graham and as part of Graham’s 4-H Club, the now 14-year-old’s love for the craft deepened, and her dishes became more and more adventurous. Ayla’s recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi has earned her a $50 gift card to Riccardo’s Market, 1219 Wheeler Ave., Dunmore.
Ayla came upon the recipe, which includes pine nuts and a brown butter and raisin sauce, during a 4-H meeting while looking through cookbooks.
“I’d never heard of anything like it, but it sounded great with all the different ingredients and flavors, and I decided to try it,” said Ayla, who lives in South Abington Twp.
Ayla added her own touches to it and makes her own gnocchi by hand using a gnocchi roller. She advised cooks to keep an eye on the sauce while it’s on low heat to ensure it doesn’t burn. Cooks also can substitute different ingredients instead of pine nuts and raisins, though the savory and sweet flavors, plus the rich textures, make it an ideal fall dish.
“I am more of a savory person, and I had never tasted a brown butter sauce before, but that nutty flavor tasted really good to me,” Ayla said.
Ayla is committed to honing her cooking skills and makes dinner for the family most nights, including everything from different types of pastas and desserts for her parents, Carlie and Jason, and sisters, Paige and Violet. Ayla’s Eggplant Parmesan is her mom’s favorite, and she said Ayla has completely surpassed her with cooking knowledge. The teen can tell what a dish is missing just by tasting it and incorporates all the tricks and hacks she’s learned from watching cooking and competition shows over the years.
Carlie Holgate recalled one year when Ayla used a Target gift card to buy herself a garlic press.
“What 11- or 12-year-old asks for a garlic press? But she was absolutely thrilled, and it made her so happy,” her mom said with a laugh. “Sometimes I’ll be making something and she’ll come and just slide in and take over. I feel like a very lucky mom. … She really just loves it and has such a knack for it. She’s just amazing.”
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT