TikTok’s “Danny Loves Pasta” Plans To Transform His Toddler’s Artwork Into A Meal
Until then, Danny Freeman is sharing his pasta secrets in his new cookbook Danny Loves Pasta.
Danny Freeman has made a name for himself on TikTok with his colorful homemade pastas (we all saw his Bluey ravioli, right?) and now he’s revealing his secrets. Freeman, aka Danny Loves Pasta, has released his first cookbook with over 75 recipes, including one of his favorites your kids will love to make: mini lasagnas.
Freeman didn’t initially set out to become a famous TikTok chef who recently collaborated with Giada De Laurentiis. He started his career as a lawyer at a big corporate law firm and a lot of student loan debt to pay off. “I always knew I was not going to last,” Freeman tells Romper. “That was not where I wanted to end up.” A few years later, Freeman started working as a housing attorney for a nonprofit providing free legal services. “That job I loved and I loved the work,” he says. “And then when Covid hit, we all went remote and my daughter was born.”
Freeman and his husband Steven Wengrovitz welcomed their daughter in July 2020. For a little while, the new dads coordinated taking parental leave and going back to work. “We were both working and juggling childcare, and that was not going to last,” Freeman says. “It was not sustainable, but we tried to make it work the best we could.”
Then, in the midst of becoming parents, raising a newborn in a pandemic, and a big move, Freeman’s beloved grandmother had also passed away. “I was very, very close with my grandmother. She lived close to us. We’d see her all the time,” he shares.
To feel close to his grandmother, Freeman got to work in the kitchen and started to make fresh pasta, something she used to do. “I really had a hard time when she passed away,” Freeman says, “and I was doing this creative thing to feel close to her and do something for myself. … learning from her recipes and everything, and I started posting about it.” From there, Danny Loves Pasta was born and Freeman decided to officially leave his job as an attorney and pursue cooking full-time.
Now, Danny Loves Pasta has 1.4 million followers on TikTok and over 304,000 on Instagram. But even better than his massive following of pasta lovers and a new cookbook, is Freeman being able to create memories with his daughter like he has of his grandmother.
Ahead of his cookbook’s release, Freeman chatted with Romper about growing up in an Italian-American home, his favorite recipes in the cookbook, and how he gets his daughter involved in his pasta-making world.
You really make the most beautiful and creative pastas. That Danny DeVito ravioli is next level. I’d love to know what family meals looked like in your home growing up.
We grew up eating a lot of pasta. I grew up in an Italian-American family, I’m one of three boys, so we were always eating a lot. Our family dinners were pretty traditional. After my dad got home from work, we all ate dinner together. My mother is a great cook, my dad cooks as well. We would have homemade pasta mostly on holidays, my grandmother used to make it on Christmas. It was very food oriented upbringing.
Do you have a favorite food or dish from your childhood?
This is not going to be the most original answer, but I always loved pasta, especially with my grandmother’s tomato sauce. That was my number one favorite food. But my mother also makes a great sauce, [so does] my father, so do I. We all kind of use a very similar recipe, but each one always tastes a little bit different depending on who made it.
Now that you have a daughter, are there any food traditions you’ve tried to keep up with her?
I try to incorporate my daughter in a lot of the fresh pasta I make. She’s turning 3 this summer, so she can’t do everything, but she likes to be in the kitchen with me. We have one of those tower stands and she’ll stand up on the counter and work with a dough with me. She likes to mix, she likes to crack eggs, so I let her do that part of it. We mix it together and usually when it comes time to me making whatever shape I’m making, I hand her a little bit of the dough and she plays with that while I’m doing other stuff.
I don’t always make the very colorful, complicated pasta every night for her. But I do try and do fun ones every now and again to kind of get her excited about it. I did some of her favorite cartoon characters or book characters, and she was really liking this [pasta] I used to make that looks like a chocolate chip cookie.
What does a typical weeknight dinner look like in your home?
We are still sort of on the schedule where my husband and I eat later than [our daughter]. One day, I hope to merge our times into one dinnertime ... She just eats earlier than we are used to eating. So usually I will make her dinner and either I’ll sit with her or my husband will sit with her or we’ll both sit with her. Usually that is something kind of simple, either like a pasta, rice, bread, or something as the base and carb and throw on some veggies.
After bedtime, my husband and I will eat. And sometimes that looks like a meal that I’ve made or we’ve made. Sometimes it’s scrounging for whatever we have because we’re so tired at that point. ... We often look at each other like, “Do you want to cook tonight or do you want to scrounge?” That’s what we call it... we just see what we have in the fridge. It’s not the most romantic answer, but that’s what it often ends up being.
Do you ever get tired of pasta?
No. And I do get that question a lot. I feel like it’s such a great base for so many different things.
Besides flour, of course, what’s something you always keep in your pantry?
Steve and I like to bake cookies a lot. So we pretty much always have the ingredients on hand: the sugar, brown sugar, the vanilla, all that sort of baking staples we always have. ... We always have eggs in the fridge for baking, for pasta, for scrambled eggs in the morning. We always have oatmeal. We always have lots of pasta. ... My daughter’s a snacker, so she likes crackers and goldfish and things like that.
So your cookbook is coming out soon! It’s really beautiful. How many years of recipes would you say are included in it?
Some of the sauce recipes go back to my childhood. I call it the Sunday sauce. My mother always had a pot of tomato sauce on the stove on Sundays simmering all day, and I included a recipe like that. There’s also the weeknight tomato sauce that she would sometimes make. That’s the one I make honestly more often now. We used to call it quick sauce when I was a kid.
Some of [the recipes] are inspired by foods my family would make. There’s a pasta in there, it’s with roasted tomatoes and mozzarella and basil. It’s kind of like a caprese style, but turned into a pasta. I thought of my dad because [when we were kids] he would always make caprese salad when we got back from the beach.
The fresh pasta I started more recently. That’s when I started incorporating vegetables and herbs and spices to make the different colors, learning all the different shapes, and making my new shapes.
Do you have a favorite recipe in the book?
When it comes to the pasta shapes, there’s two I really love. I love making homemade bowtie pasta. They’re cute, it’s fun, it’s not too complicated. In terms of [new] shapes ... there’s one in there called succulent ravioli. They look like little succulent plants and they are edible and they taste good, but they’re also very cute.
For the sauces, there’s one in there I’ve been making for a long time, probably 10 or 15 years, called mini lasagnas. [It] kind of started because Steve’s a vegetarian and we would make lasagna, but we were trying to do half and half, it wouldn’t always work. So we started doing individual lasagnas in little ramekins.
For someone who wants to start making their own pasta, where should they start?
Start with a basic dough, it’s just flour and eggs. It’s simple. It always looks intimidating in videos sometimes, but the process is pretty simple. You can just mix them together. You could do it in a food processor if you want, or even a hand mixer. Or you can do the old-fashioned way by hand. You don’t need a pasta maker.
I’ve seen a few comments on your TikToks with requests to have your daughter draw something and then you make a pasta from it. Have you guys tried that out yet?
Yeah, I have seen those comments. I saved one of them because I’m like, “This is a really good idea. I’m going to come back to this when I have time.” So I am definitely going to do that at some point. I like that idea. It’ll definitely be colorful, she loves paint. There’d be a lot of scribbles right now because she’s still only 2. But she did once draw a family portrait of us that has some circles in it. So I’ve been thinking maybe I’ll do that one since it’s a little bit more of an actual shape. Otherwise it’ll just be a very colorful blob.
Freeman’s cookbook Danny Loves Pasta is available now wherever books are sold.