My #1 Pasta for The 27th City: Team Martin

I wanted to read The Twenty-Seventh City by Jonathon Franzen for a while. I wanted to read Franzen because I felt inadequate being a Person Who Talks Books and not having read any his work. I’d settled on The Twenty-Seventh City because it is about St. Louis. I’m from St. Louis, a city I think of fondly, although it has terrible self-esteem. Unless, of course, we’re talking baseball. Watch out, Boston.

The Twenty-Seventh City does not paint the most savory picture of St. Louis, nor does it paint a sweet one. In it, St. Louis City and St. Louis County are at odds. Some people want them to incorporate, others don’t. Money and power are thrown about in this battle on the urban playground. Mysterious events are at hand. Why did a young woman from India get hired as Chief of Police? Who is buying up all the city’s land and razing old property on the north side? As the book progresses, so does the violence and sex. Violence and sex really do make the literary world go round. Violent sex even more so. Cue Fifty Shades of Grey. Which The Book Cook will not be covering for a variety of reasons. Despite my love of sexy food.

The new Indian police chief, a young woman by the name of S. Jammu, is indeed up to some elaborate schemes. One of these consists of putting prominent St. Louisans into what she calls “The State”. “The State” is an emotional state of imbalance. It is caused by preying on the personal weaknesses of Jammu’s unwitting victims. Once in “The State” they can be coerced into doing things they might otherwise not. I am fairly certain that “The State” is what I experience after dealing with the Trader Joe’s parking lot. Suddenly, buying cookie butter and sub-par produce makes so much sense.

One of Jammu’s chief problems in The Twenty-Seventh City, the man The Chief cannot seem to conquer, is Martin Probst. Martin is a prominent society member and contractor. Man versus woman. St. Louis versus India. I was not sure who I wanted to root for. Should I join Team Jammu or Team Martin? Should I join a team at all? Both characters had qualities that REALLY made me want to, oh, honor them. Although some of these traits were not the most honorable things, such as Jammu’s ability to turn off all emotion and get the job done. Being a robot of destruction is on my bucket list.

Perhaps the indecision I experienced is the sign of a book well-written. It lives in a gray area. It is entirely possible Franzen is not asking us to pick sides. If you want a more in-depth exploration of this book, there is an excellent essay written by The Facades author Eric Lundgren (remember that one?) on The Twenty-Seventh City here. Meanwhile, I must pick a team for this week and move on to food.

I decided this week was in honor of Team Martin and would have St. Louis-oriented cuisine. Next week will be Team Jammu and another recipe in honor of her Indian heritage.

There are a good deal of St. Louis foods I could wax poetic on: gooey butter cake, toasted ravioli (T-Ravs), Imo’s pizza (omg provel cheese-I’m a hater), BBQ, Budweiser Ted Drewes Frozen Custard (get a concrete!) and Crown Candy Kitchen. And then there are the things you can only get in St. Louis that I miss most in LA: coffee from Meshuggah, White Castle (I only miss that at 3am) and Steak n’ Shake, which I only should miss at 3am but I miss always.

Oh! And did ya know the ice cream cone was invented at the 1904 World’s Fair in STL? Save that fact for Jeopardy.

The food I am most surprised has not become more universally popular is toasted ravioli. You know you are working at a St. Louis restaurant when you ask someone to “drop an app of T-ravs at the two-top”. Love me some restaurant lingo. I really don’t care for ravioli as a regular pasta dish. Boring. Toasted ravioli, however, is a finger food. It is breaded and fried. Not that I am glued to football (despite the Rams, St. Louis is still at its heart a baseball town), but these would be excellent Superbowl fair. Growing up I still ate meat and ate the meat-filled ravioli but now I opt for cheese of vegetable fillings. This time around, I got an artichoke-filled variety.

This is a pretty quick and easy thing to make, the way I make it. Frying might make it slightly more daunting. I have a fear of deep-frying, at least when I am the one dong it. Something about boiling oil splashing about is terrifying. I burn myself in the kitchen enough as it is. So the ravioli I made is toasted in the oven. You are welcome to fry if you are braver than I. Let me know how it goes. Go team you!

Toasted Ravioli

  • 1 package refrigerated ravioli (I used an artichoke ravioli)
  • 1 cup of Italian breadcrumbs OR 1 cup panko, 1/2 tsp. dried parsley 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. dried oregano, 1 tsp. dried basil, 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • dash milk
  • olive oil spray
  • truffle salt (optional)
  • marinara (optional but not really)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a rack on a baking tray and spritz with olive oil. Whisk the egg and milk in one bowl and place the Italian breadcrumbs (or the panko/herb mix) in another. Dip the ravioli in the egg mixture, then in the breadcrumbs, coating it well. Place on the rack. Repeat with as many ravioli as you want to eat. Then spray with some more olive oil and place in the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until nicely crisp and brown. If you have truffle salt? Well, a little bit of that never hurt anybody. Serve ravioli with marinara for dipping.

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