It’s always been a symbolic number in my life — 27.
I remember sitting with my best friend, Dan, at his house in Topanga close to my 28th birthday. Dan was a few years older than I. “27 has been a really hard year,” I said — tired and disillusioned. “Oh man,” he replied, “I’m just getting over 27.”
27 is, of course, the year that so many talented young artists perish. Browse the obits, and it truly is astonishing — Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Mama Cass Eliott, Gram Parsons, Brian Jones, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Heath Ledger, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse. It’s often morbidly referred to as the “Forever 27 Club.”
Living through my own difficult 27, I spent a lot of time thinking about what made it such a mythically hard year (in other words, besides the subjective fact that my girlfriend of six years had just dumped me). The position of 27 in the modern young adult’s life lies somewhere at the crux between extended adolescence and actual adulthood — you’re no longer early enough in your 20s to legitimately claim immaturity as an excuse for immature actions. And yet, you’re not yet comfortable being an adult, utterly responsible for yourself and answerable for your actions. If you’re not yet successful — which you’re usually not — you feel a great pressure to get it all together before you hit 30. Your parents, siblings and peers are watching. If you are successful — as in the case of those above — you probably feel a different sort of pressure… You have peaked in your 20s, people will be expecting great things of you, where do you go from here?
As a teen, I spent a lot of time with friends in Topanga Canyon, chasing hippy girls and listening to many of those same musicians who had died at 27 — some of whom had lived in the canyon themselves. Only later, once I had moved to the canyon, did I realize that Topanga Canyon Boulevard — the main road snaking through the canyon — was also California Route 27.
Now, as I find myself likely closer chronologically to Heinz 57 sauce than to the rock & roll heroes of my youth, I still contemplate the significance of the number in my life. It still pops up in strange places. Even in cooking. Which brings me back around to my blog — where everything must eventually be related to food, even if only peripherally.
Today, needing to use up some of the abundance of swiss chard in my garden, I turned to my all-time favorite issue of my favorite cooking magazine, Saveur — issue #27, published in May/June 1998. The magazine is frayed and stained with oil and wine from use, and I live in fear of it eventually falling apart. In addition to the article on spring tortas from the Liguria region of Italy which will help me use up my swiss chard, there are frequently referenced articles on Kansas City barbecue, Japanese cooking with miso, L.A.’s La Española Meats and Turkish cuisine.
I put on some Gram Parsons and knead dough, rolling it out thin and spreading chopped swiss chard on top. My baby sleeps in the next room, a rooster crows outside, and I am happy to have made it past 27.
Here’s my variation on the Ligurian torta — as they say on Sesame Street, brought to you by the #27.
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Ligurian swiss chard torta
1 & 1/2 cup flour
1 & 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup water
2 bunches swiss chard, washed and roughly chopped
4 eggs, hard boiled and cut in half lengthwise
2 small potatoes, thinly sliced
1 cup shaved pecorino romano cheese
2 more tbsp. olive oil
Place flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. With a fork, stir in olive oil. Drizzle in water, stirring, until dough holds together (you may not need the whole 1/2 cup). Place dough on a floured board and knead 5-8 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Make into a ball, cover with a wet paper towel and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375. Place dough on a smooth counter or large board, and roll out, adding more flour as needed, until very thin. Lightly oil and flour a large pizza pan or baking sheet, and place the dough on top. Place the swiss chard in the middle and pat down until you’ve got a circle roughly 14 inches in width, leaving a perimeter circle of dough about 6 inches wide. Drizzle with a tablespoon olive oil. Arrange the potato slices on top, and then the half eggs in a circle around the perimeter. Sprinkle the pecorino over the top.
At about eight points on the outer circle, pull the edges of the dough toward the center, pressing each lightly to seal (there will be a small opening in the center). With your fingers or a baking brush, brush the last tablespoon olive oil onto the outside of the torta, covering the dough. Sprinkle evenly with 1 tbsp. flaky sea salt.
Place the torta on the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.
Variations: If you want a bit of a meat flavor, you could add slices of pancetta in place of the egg. Thinly sliced mushrooms also make a good torta, as do simply potato and ricotta cheese.