Monday, August 10, 2015

Family Freakout - Pasta, Pork, and Peppers Manicotti

I got punched in the stomach by a selfie.  I blame my cousin Steven, but not really.  He did warn me.

I can't make these things up. Just work with me here.  Okay, as a lawyer, I have spent the last 24 years in search of the truth. Most of that time I have been a civil prosecutor, held to a higher standard.  I'm not just there to win the case, I am charged with finding out what really happened.  If the truth caused me to lose a case, so be it.  I've always trusted my judges (well, at least until recently) to do the Right Thing with the information I had available to give them.

My personal life has also been spent in search of the truth, which I suppose was inevitable because I had been lied to by my family, my whole life.  So I have spent my whole life trying to figure out who I really am.  Who do I really look like?  Where did I get this or that trait from? How can I begin to answer these sorts of questions when I have no idea what half my family even looks like?  Where did my younger brother get those gorgeous blue eyes, so different from everyone else in our family?

Trust me, they are blue
When I "found" my paternal relatives in 2013, I also found those gorgeous blue eyes, most notably on a cousin whose grandfather was my father's brother, and on my first cousin Steve; my father and his mother were brother and sister. And others.  Freaky in a very nice way. But since my youngest brother (formerly known as my only brother) remains estranged from me, and surely does not follow my blog, he will remain clueless.

I've looked at my face and I can discern certain genetic markers - the Nathan chin; the left eyelid droop from the Alberts. But overall, when I look at me, I don't see a real maternal family resemblance.  As my beloved cousin Marcia once told me -  and she had grown up with my mother, and had never, ever lied to me - I look like the "other side."  And that my grandmother-who-raised-me did not like that. 

Without pictures of the "other side", I just didn't see it.  Heck, even with pictures of the other side, lovingly provided by Cousin Steve, I just didn't see it. I knew I did not look like my mother Joyce but I kind of looked like her brother, my Uncle Marty and yes, you are right, I was in denial.

But when you've been lied to by the adults closest to you, and asked to lie by them as well, to perpetrate a family fraud, lines blur and so do faces. But just recently, a Facebook photo of one of my Osher nephews struck me, and there was no doubt but I could see the resemblance, and with his father, my brother Fred, and with my sister Nora.  If you were to take a picture of us together (and sadly, Fred is gone) you would say we were obviously family.

But wait!  Along came the selfie, and I finally finally FINALLY saw what my Cousin Steve had been trying to tell me two years ago.

Total family freakout.  Yes, I do look like my aunties, my father Mike's sisters, especially my Aunt Helen on the right. I was so shocked by the selfie-in-the-garden that I ran around like a lunatic to find the pictures Steve and Cookie had brought me two years ago (I told you I was in denial).  I had put them in a safe place; so safe, in fact, it took me two hours to find them.

The moral of the story is that it is almost always a bad idea to lie to your children.  I once told Cousin Steve that Cindy Osher had disappeared the end of May, 1962, but I was wrong; she merely went involuntarily underground for the next fifty years.  Bad idea, definitely added to the pathological tendencies I inherited from both sides, but I can't change it.  I am who I am, except now I am whole. Mostly.  I still don't know what Mike looked like.  

More serious stuff: A DCF worker was shot and killed by a parent in Vermont after that parent lost custody of her child. This is so upsetting, I cannot put it into words.  My social service colleagues, the child protective investigators, and the case managers, put their lives at risk every day, yet they are underpaid, overworked, and under-appreciated.  

As an attorney for the Department, I'm not out in the field, like they are, and yet I have had my office windows shot out twice, my identity stolen and used to buy televisions and such, and verbally threatened so that deputies had to escort me out of the courthouse.  I've been followed, screamed at, and pushed (I pushed back).  As bad as that is, the investigators and case managers are at much higher risk, as they are out there, in the field, in people's homes, all alone with nothing but a cell phone. No wonder the turnover rate is so high.  No wonder.

Less serious stuff:  Oh Donald, what have you done? Actually, thank you for putting Megyn Kelly in her place. Hey, I really like Bret Baier and Chris Wallace.  Lately. though Megyn has been coming across like a brittle shrew.  They should have had Greta on that panel. Fox out-foxed themselves.  Pathetic.

I ate the tomato and it was good

I shouldn't have cooked today, but it is hard for me to sit still despite the price I pay.  Because I was active yesterday, spending too much time on my feet, I had a dreadful night, mostly sleepless.  When I did get up, my back was on fire.  Yesterday I was able to eat; today is a whole different story.

While I was checking the Lower Forty today, and harvesting Italian parsley and Thai basil, I noticed that I already had 3 gorgeous okra pods ripening on the plant.  A few more of those and I can start giving serious though to preparing my gumbo. Stay tuned.

So I had a bag of uncooked manicotti tubes staring me in the face from one of my pantries. I always have grating cheese and prepared sauce in the house - basil and parsley in the garden - all I had to do was pick up ricotta - and while I was doing that those cute little pork sausage meatballs jumped into my shopping cart.  It's not a huge amount, but enough for a small family, with dividends.

Pasta, Pork, and Peppers Manicotti

1 pound Italian pork sausage, any casing removed, formed into 12 meatballs
Canola oil, for frying
6 to 10 uncooked manicotti tubes
1-24 oz. jar of your favorite prepared pasta sauce
1-15 oz. container whole milk ricotta (Galbani, if you can find it)
1 extra large egg
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
pinch white pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch granulated garlic
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1/2 cup (from a 12 oz. jar) Mancini brand fried peppers, rough chop
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped Thai basil
1 cup shredded Parmigiano Reggiano (or other good Parmesan)

Fry the meatballs in canola oil; remove to a pan and place in the refrigerator to cool down.

Place the manicotti in boiling water that has had a tablespoon of salt and some oil added to it. Reduce the heat setting to Low, cover the pot and time for 9 minutes.  Remove each cooked manicotti with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl half filled with ice and cold water.  When the manicotti are cooled down, carefully move them to paper towels to drain. Save some of the cooking water. If you are lucky, you will have 6 relatively intact cooked manicotti.  If you have more, go ahead and use them.  I had 8 out of the 9 - good catch.

Prepare the filling: in a large mixing bowl combine the ricotta, egg, salt, peppers and granulated garlic. Mix well to incorporate the egg. Take 6 of the cooked meatballs and chop into smaller pieces. Add the chopped meatballs, along with the pepper jack, Romano, and fried peppers, and stir gently to fully combine. Finally fold in the parsley and basil.

Cover the bottom of an aluminum baking pan with some of the sauce thinned with some of the pasta water.  Fill the manicotti tubes with the ricotta mixture.  Place each filled manicotti on top of the sauce. Eight manicotti will fit comfortably in the pan.  Spread any leftover filling across the manicotti.

Thin the remaining sauce with more of the pasta water, and pour over the manicotti, covering all of the exposed pasta.  Optional:  slice the remaining meatballs and place them on top of the manicotti.  Do the same with some of the fried pepper pieces. Cover the top of the casserole with the Parmesan cheese. Bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes.

Garnish with chiffonade of fresh basil, if you're that kind of person.

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