It’s been said that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. Through my personal experience , as of lately, that quote has been severely neglected, or totally ignored. But back in the day when my sister Annette was trolling for a husband, my mother could have been the author of that proverb.
The year was around 1962 and my sister Annette was in the long and complicated process of finding her soul mate. Back then, at least in my family, this was not a simple task. Or one to be taken alone. It took proper planning and execution that only my mother and “the council” were qualified to pull off. Members of “the council” ,including my mother, were my Grandmother, my Aunt Mary and my Aunt Angie. They typically held a meeting when matters of great importance were to be decided, consensus to be reached and the commanding officer, my mother, was to be assured of exactly what to do. The objective: help my sister find a husband.
The plan had been carefully laid out. Previous attempts had failed so a totally new tactic was in place. My sister’s boyfriend Arthur was invited to an early supper that my sister was supposedly preparing for him. It was the old “let’s feed him till he’s numb and could not think straight” ploy.
But this was not an easy plan to execute. My sister was severely challenged when it came to pouring milk on cereal, let alone prepare a meal that would pull on Arthur’s heart strings and quicken his pace to propose. So the “Council” was preparing to work overtime.
The plan: 1. Have my mother and grandmother prepare a meal that would make Henry the 8th gasp. 2. Get my 15 year old brother Richard out of the house. 3. Leave detailed instructions on warming and serving that even my sister could follow on her own. 4. Leave them alone, which meant my grandmother would be listening from the upstairs door and if it got too quiet she could make an entrance.
The day had come. My mother and Grandmother spent the entire previous day cooking and preparing “the meal”. My brother Richard was on a two day camping trip with my father’s cousin Eric and the Boy Scouts. So he was out of the house and his time of arrival back would not be until well into the evening. My Mother and Father packed me in the car and went over my Aunt Mary’s house, which was only blocks away in case immediate intervention was needed.
The dining room was all prepared. The lights were dim. The table was set with the good China. My mother’s fine crystal glasses were glistening under the candle light. The Victrola was playing tunes of Nat King Cole. And the tomato sauce was simmering.
When Arthur arrived everything was ready. The trap had been set. It was the beginning of a perfect evening. My sister led Arthur to the dining room table and as he sat down she offered him a drink. They glared into each other’s eyes while sipping their Ginger Ale. Arthur commented on how my sister should not have gone through all this for him. My sister gloated back and assured him that he was well worth the hours she slaved over the stove to prepare this special meal, just for him.
My sister had just plated the manicotti and carefully spread the thick marinara sauce over the top. She danced towards the dining room table holding the two dishes and carefully placed one in front of Arthur. He commented on how wonderful it looked and smelled, and how many hours she must have spent in preparing such an amazing dish. My sister exclaimed, “it was nothing. Just something I enjoy doing! Would you like me to sprinkle some cheese over your manicotti, Arthur?”
My sister sat down and placed her linen napkin over her lap and looked into Arthur’s eyes and said “I hope you enjoy it”. Just as Arthur picked up his fork and began to cut into the pasta my brother Richard entered the room, threw down his sleeping bag and said, “BOY, AM I STARVING! WHY IS IT SO DARK IN HERE?”
It was as if the needle on the Nat King Cole album had screeched across the record and time had just stood still. My sister looked over to my brother Richard and her eyes widened with anger. Words wanted to come out of her mouth but couldn’t. Her hand clenched around her fork and tightened in a position that was ready to stab him if he came any closer. Arthur turned to Richard and said “Hi Richard!, would you like to join us?”
After two days of camping in the woods of the Adirondacks, un-showered and smelling like the inside of a Texas smoke house, Richard took his place at the table on the opposite end from where my sister was sitting and prepared himself for a meal of a lifetime.
The chaos factor was in full swing at my sisters dinner. But the stars and planets must have been perfectly aligned that afternoon because two years later my sister Annette and Arthur were married.
Hail the “council”!!!
For the Pasta:
For the filling:
To make the tomato sauce place olive oil in heavy pot and sauté onions till soft and translucent. Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. If you are adding chopped meat brown the meat till done.
Add both cans of tomato sauce and rinse each can halfway with water and pour into the sauce. Add Italian sausage if you are using it, red wine, basil, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook uncovered on medium heat for 1/2 hour, stirring occasionally, till thick. Adjust for sweetness and salt after half hour. Take off the heat.
In a small non stick skillet, lightly oil the pan. Place over a medium flame. When the pan is hot pour about a quarter cup of batter into the pan and swirl the pan until the batter covers the bottom of the pan in an even pancake. Cook until the pancake edges are dry and flip over. Cook the other side for 45 seconds. Do not brown. Repeat the process until all the batter is used, lightly oiling when needed. This should make about 11- 12 crepes.
To put together the Manicotti, Take one crepe, place about 2-3 tablespoons of ricotta mixture along the center of the crepe to about an inch and a half from the ends. The row of ricotta should be about 2 inches wide by about 6 inches long. Fold the two sides along the long end of the crepe over and fold the two opposite ends over each other.
Place each manicotti, seam side down, into a baking pan covered in tomato sauce. Do this till all the crepes and ricotta are used up. Ladle more tomato sauce over the manicotti till it is covered. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and cover the pan with foil. Place in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes to an hour or until bubbly. Take off the foil and continue to bake for another 10 minutes.