Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thank You Jeffrey Johnson...Wherever You Are!

The first thing I ever remember cooking was manicotti – interesting that it was an Italian recipe since to this day I have not master Italian cooking.

My boyfriend of several months told me he loved Italian food, especially Manicotti and he insisted that I cook it for him the following Saturday.

I had exactly one week to GMST (get my shit together) and figure out how I was going to pull this off. I felt a massive amount of pressure just remembering the old saying that “the way to a man’s heart is though his stomach.” I thought I really liked this guy.

The following week, you could find me under the pile of Italian cookbooks at the library and the more I read, the more confused I got. There were so many recipes and at that stage in my cooking life, I could not tell just by looking at a recipe which ones were good and which ones were not.

Quite frankly, this was the first time I had ever cooked in my life and I was so afraid of failure. I read Italian cookbooks into the wee hours of the morning that week, falling asleep over just about anything that looked a little too complex or had too many steps to follow.

My Italian neighbor Mary came to my rescue and on Thursday she happily took me through the process of making manicotti and even went to the grocery store with me and helped me buy all of the best ingredients.

By Saturday morning, I had mastered the art of Manicotti… so I thought. I make better manicotti today simply because there are better ingredients available. For instance, I love the variety of ricotta cheese  that I can get from my Italian market.

Through all of the stress just to get to this point, I learned two valuable and easy lessons:

1) If you want to know anything about ethnic cooking, go to the source. My Italian neighbor Mary was such a great cook and it was not until the 11th hour that I begged her – only to be walked though each and every step of cooking the recipe and buying the ingredients.

Ask the ethnic chefs you know for a lesson or two – you’ll be amazed at all the tricks and the shortcuts you’ll learn.

2) Don’t be afraid to fail. You can read up, study, ask questions, take lessons and do everything right and still have a failure. It wouldn’t be your first and it certainly will not be your last.

Look at each failure, read more, study up and ask a million and one questions. Oft times it takes time to master a cuisine…ask me, I am still, after all these years, trying to master the art of the Italian.

So how was my dinner? Thanks to Mary he said it was almost as good as his mothers. I took that as a compliment but we split up a week later. I still laugh about that. But one great thing - I did learn how to make manicotti.

He wasn’t the love of my life, but he turned me on to cooking and gave me a huge boost of confidence in the kitchen. I started buying cookbooks and paying attention to menus. I didn’t love to cook just yet, but I was on the path… and never looked back.

Bon Appetit! And thank you Jeffrey Johnson – wherever you are!

Here is that old Manicotti Recipe (circa 1967)

24 ounces manicotti

24 ounces mozzarella

1 ½ c provolone

6 eggs – lightly beaten

Bread crumbs

Parmesan cheese

2 tbsp. butter

Salt and pepper

Combine mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, eggs, butter, salt and pepper. Stuff each manicotti with mixture.

Layer with tomato sauce (see my old post for marinara sauce), manicotti, and Parmesan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.