Every city has its shantytowns, tenements, projects and favelas; cramped, tightly-knit urban regions in which people are thrown together, joined by poverty and a sense of stagnation. These spaces form a teeming world of their own within the larger macrocosm of the city, connected but self-contained. Life is stacked upon life in a confined area, making the situation rife for story telling; a perfect stage setting of tension and drama. People struggle to survive from day to day, and dream of escape. They form a network of friendship and support, but crowded conditions breed pressure, and the threat of violence is never distant. Privacy is scarce when one person’s front door opens onto another’s and a network of alleys or balconies forms the veins that connect them all. This is brilliant fodder for movies, but it makes for good songs, as well. So this week’s Sunday interactive playlist is on the subject of cramped urban housing.
Here’s a picture that Isaac drew a few weeks ago. He started drawing “city towers,” and then he got caught up drawing these crazy rambling houses that sprawl up the hillside, and connect and expand and have levels and layers and turrets. The oval area in front is an underground space where they meet (and apparently practice math facts!)
This pasta is kind of like his labyrinthine spread. It’s handmade pasta for people who don’t have a pasta maker. What you do is this…you make pasta dough (which is fun and easy!) You roll it as thin as you possibly can (which is a bit of work, but also fun!) You cut it into any shape you like – triangles, squares, rectangles. You fill each one with a spoonful of delicious filling, then you wrap it up any way you like – each one a different shape. Some you roll in tubes, some you make in pockets. Some you put seam-side down, some you put seam-side up. You pile them on top of each other or next to each other. (You try not to get too great a concentration of layers of pasta in one place, so it’s not stodgy.) You cover them with a delicious smoky sauce made of pine nuts and roasted red peppers. You sprinkle mozzarella on top. You bake the pasta. It has nice soft pockets of filling, some lovely melty cheese, some crispy parts where the pasta sticks out and crisps up as it bakes. And then you eat it! You could also easily use this filling and this sauce to make lasagna, stuffed shells, manicotti, or any other sort of stuffed baked pasta that you buy at the store. And that’s that!
2 cups flour
1/2 t salt
lots of black pepper
bit of water, if necessary
In a shallow bowl, combine the flour, salt and pepper. Make a well in the center and break in the eggs. Mix everything together with a spoon until you can’t any more, at which point start to knead it. Depending on the size of your eggs, you may need to add a bit of water. When it’s a nice workable dough, knead for about seven minutes, till it’s completely soft and smooth. Wrap in plastic (or a plastic veg bag) and set aside for at least 20 minutes. When you’re ready to roll it out, lightly flour the counter. Break the dough into four pieces. One at a time, roll the dough as thinly as you possible can. The shape doesn’t really matter. You want it to be about 1/16 of an inch thick, and when you lift it up you want to be able to see light through it. Cut it into pieces about 4 X 4, or there abouts. You don’t need them to be all the same size or all even. That’s part of the fun of it! Set them aside (don’t pile them on top of each other, they’ll stick!) You can drape them over a rolling pin, or on the edge of a baking sheet or on a cooling rack. You can stretch each piece a little thinner as you lift it. After about half an hour, bring a very large pot of salted water to the boil. Drop the pasta pieces in a few at at time, and cook until they rise to the surface, plus a minute or two. Fish them out, drain them, and set them aside.
2 packed cups spinach, de-stemmed, rinsed and drained
1 T olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 t red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 t rosemary
1 t basil
2 artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
2 t capers
1/2 cup mozzarella, cut into small cubes
2 T pine nuts
salt and plenty of pepper
1 tub (about 1 1/2 cups) fresh ricotta cheese
Roughly chop the spinach. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, the garlic, the pepper flakes and the herbs. Stir and cook for under a minute, until the garlic starts to brown. Add the spinach and a spoonful of water. Cook till the pan starts to dry. Add the artichoke hearts and the capers. Once the pan is quite dry, set this mixture aside.
In a food processor, combine the mozzarella, ricotta, salt and pepper, pine nuts and eggs. Process briefly. Add the spinach and artichoke mixture and process for another half a minute. You want flecks of dark green – not a uniform pale green. Set the filling aside.
2 red peppers, roasted, peeled and chopped (or one largish jar roasted red peppers, if it’s winter!)
1 T olive oil
1 t sage
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 t smoked paprika
salt and pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream (or water)
Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sage and garlic. Cook for under a minute, then add the red peppers. Cook until they’re warm through, about five minutes. Add the pine nuts, paprika, salt and pepper. Remove from the heat. Transfer to a food processor. Process until you have a chunky paste. Add the cream or water, process till smooth.
Preheat the oven to 400.
Put a big spoonful in the middle of a piece of pasta. Wrap it up any way you like. You can pull the corners up, roll it into a log, fold it together like a paper bag and lay it on its seam. Do each one differently! If you have a very long piece, roll it in layers, with a spoonful of filling between each one. Fill your lasagna pan with little parcels of dough and filling – don’t worry about making it neat. Messiness is part of the charm. Pour the sauce over. Sprinkle some grated parmesan on top.
Bake until the cheese on top is golden and bubbling, about half an hour. Let cool, then serve.