This post comes to us courtesy of Melissa Graham, founding Executive Director of Purple Asparagus.
Kids are funny, aren’t they?
I don’t know about yours, but my son’s favorite playthings are often not even toys. Give him a map and hours later you’ll find him tracing his way from Maine to California. Google maps and GeoMasters are tied as his favorite iPad apps. Neither he nor I could live without our car’s GPS; we’re simply motivated by different needs.
Maps aren’t his only geo-political obsession. I have a whole slew of his drawings of the flags of the world dating back to 2010.
Late last year, we hatched an idea that combined his love of nation states and my love of cooking. Regularly, we plan to focus on a country. We dedicated a blank book to this purpose. In it, he’ll draw the nation’s flag and pair it with a few quick facts about the selected country. For my part, he and I will cook together a meal from the country.
I was thrilled to learn that Williams-Sonoma was highlighting the cuisine of Sicily this month. Given his (and every kid’s) love of pizza and pasta, he’s been bugging me to add Italy to our rotation.
It’s been years since I saw Big Night, but like every foodie, I remember gasping with amazement when the timbale — a pasta dish baked in a mold — appeared in the film. When I learned the timbale is a Sicilian dish, I knew the recipe to try. While making it involves several steps, none are particularly involved, and the dish can be made in an afternoon for that night’s dinner.
While I put together the components, my son did his research. In his eight-year-old scrawl, he recorded the following facts about Sicily and Italy:
- 1. Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean.
- 2. Pizza and pasta are Italian foods.
- 3. Some people think that there was a land bridge between Africa and Sicily at one point.
- 4. The capital of Italy is Rome.
- 5. The population of Italy is 58, 103,033.
After he drew the map of Italy, we sat down to enjoy our feast – layers of sauce coated pasta sandwiching a filling of spinach and ricotta. It served us heartily with leftovers.
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 Italian sausage links
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
1/3 cup red wine
1 tsp. oregano
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ lb. whole grain shell pasta
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 Tbs. finely chopped mixed herbs, oregano, parsley and/or basil
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
¾ bag of frozen spinach, defrosted
15 oz. ricotta cheese
2 roasted red peppers, thinly sliced
1/3 cup sliced pepperoni
Preheat oven to 400° F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with oil.
Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove the casings from the Italian sausage. Add it the pan and cook stirring with a wooden spoon until the meat is no longer pink. Stir in 1 teaspoon minced garlic and cook until fragrant. Pour in the tomatoes, red wine, oregano, pinch of red pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a large pinch of kosher salt and the pasta. Cook according to the directions. Drain and cool.
Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan. Add 2 teaspoons minced garlic and cook until frequent. Stir in the bread crumbs and cook until lightly browned. Mix in the chopped herbs.
Heat the second tablespoon of olive oil in another sauté pan. Stir in remaining garlic and cook for a few seconds. Add spinach and cook about 5 minutes. Fold in the ricotta cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Sprinkle half of the bread crumbs onto the bottom of the pan. Stir the pasta into the sauce. Spread half of the pasta on top of the crumbs. Layer the spinach on top. Lay slices of pepperoni and peppers on top. Press the remaining pasta on top of the pepper and pepperoni. Sprinkle the rest of the bread crumbs on top. Bake in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until the bread crumbs are lightly browned and the timbale is warmed throughout. Cut into 8 slices and serve. Serves 8.
About the author: Melissa Graham, a former attorney, is the founding Executive Director of Purple Asparagus, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to educating families about all things associated with good eating, eating that’s good for the body and the planet. Though its Delicious Nutritious Adventures program, Purple Asparagus has taught thousands of parents and children about healthful, sustainable eating in schools, community centers, and farmers’ markets throughout Chicago and the suburbs. Melissa speaks and writes regularly on child nutrition and sustainability both in the Chicago community and online, blogging at Little Locavores, as The Sustainable Cook on The Local Beet, and as a regular contributor to Kiwi Magazine’s KiwiLog. In recognition of her contributions to the Chicago community, the Chicago Tribune recently awarded her a 2011 Good Eating Award, an honor previously bestowed to Rick Bayless, Alinea chef Grant Achatz, and First Lady Michelle Obama. Melissa resides in Chicago with her husband and 7-year old son in a rowhouse built in 1896.