Modern Times (1936) is a silent comedy film featuring Charlie Chaplin's famous character "Little Tramp." All too familiar and heartbreaking, the main character tries to keep up in a dizzying modernized world of mechanized machinery, oppressive labor structures and despairing financial conditions. Leave it to Chaplin to make this a cheerful endeavor full of laughter and love. Traversing how people eat, miscommunicate, and adapt to changing circumstances, Little Tramp and his police-fleeing female counterpart makes a fit heroic couple for the modern age.
I paired the film with a dish made of beautiful, gear-like pattypan squash, fascinated by the visual composition of the machinery in the film which pervades all space, both inner and outer. Gears upon gears, layers upon layers, the political dimensions and social ramifications of industrialization—in Chaplin's view the cause of the Great Depression—are as rich as the film is entertaining.
Recipe adapted from Martha Rose Shulman's Pattypan 'Steaks' in the New York Times.
- 1 lb large pattypan squash (2-3 medium squashes)
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup feta, crumbled
- 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1) Heat a cast-iron skillet over med-high heat, and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment.
2) Slice the squash 1/2 inch thick and toss in a bowl with 2 tbsp of the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
3) Slice the tomatoes in half. Pour 1 tbsp olive oil into heated cast-iron and with tongs place the tomatoes in cut side down. Don't move them around, sear them just long enough to soften. Gently transfer with tongs or spatula to a plate and set aside.
4) Raise heat to high and add the sliced squash. Sear in the hot pan for 2 minutes on each side, until the surface is lightly browned. Transfer to a sheet pan, or if you don't need to cook with your skillet in rounds, use the skillet itself. It's alright if the vegetables overlap some.
Note: I use two cast iron skillets so I don't need to transfer to a sheet. The ridged skillet works very nicely for creating sear marks on the squash.
5) Place in the oven and roast for 5 minutes. Using tongs, flip the slices, then roast 5 more minutes. Remove from the heat.
6) Transfer the squash slices to a platter. Top with tomatoes, crumbled feta and chopped cilantro.