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For the Love of Ziti

It’s time for a guest post, my friends.

I don’t get to read for pleasure very much. You probably don’t know this about me since all I ever talk about here is food, but I still do quite a bit of copywriting for my old book publishing colleagues. A big part of my business is writing reading group guides—which is fun, because I get to read some really good fiction (and the occasional memoir) before anyone else—but it means that when I’m reading a book, most of the time it’s not of my choosing. I’m madly underlining, taking notes in the margins, looking for themes and connections that might prompt discussion. In the last six months, I’ve read exactly two books for nothing more than pleasure: Eating for Beginners and Alisa Bowman’s Project: Happily Ever After: Saving Your Marriage When the Fairytale Falters.

I didn’t choose Alisa’s book because my marriage is in trouble—I chose it because she’s a friend, and I know from reading her blog that she’s wickedly funny and no-holds-barred honest. I also knew that she had quite the story: When it seemed like her marriage was kaput, not long after her daughter was born, instead of calling a lawyer she went to the bookstore. An armful of self-help books later, and her marriage was transformed. Not quite as sweet and easy as it sounds, but still—it’s a great story. And I read it in one night. It’s that compelling, that fun to read.

Alisa and I got to talking about her marriage and food, and she told me a funny story about her husband and how he wooed her with the promise of home-cooked meals that turned out to be not quite what she expected… Well, I’ll let her tell it. Check out the giveaway at the very end: You could win a signed copy ofProject: Happily Ever After!

I fell in love with my husband, in part, because of his baked ziti. He made it for me during one of our first dates. When he invited me over to dinner that night, I thought that I had finally found the perfect man. He had a job. He was kind. I liked talking with him. He was into fitness (and so was I). And he could cook.

I’d always wanted a man who cooked.

When I went over his place that night, I worried somewhere in the back of my mind that he might disappoint. What if he cooked me some stereotypical bachelor dish like spaghetti with store bought sauce and meatballs?

When I saw the casserole dish full of baked ziti? I was in love is what I was. I married him.

It would be years before I realized that my husband had conned me.

I later learned that baked ziti was one of the only dishes my husband knew how to cook. I might have picked up on this during the dating stage had I thought to notice the fact that my husband ate every single meal out. He even ate breakfast out—and he ate it out so often that all of the lonely old men who frequented the dinner knew my husband by name. A few of those lonely old men even came to our wedding.

That might have tipped me off, you know?

But it didn’t.

My husband’s perpetually empty refrigerator might have tipped me off, too.

It didn’t.

Love, as they say, is blind.

It’s falling out of love that restores a woman’s vision. That’s exactly what happened about 5 years after we married. After more than a year of unemployment, my husband opened a business within months of me having a baby. This thrust me into the role of “single mother with deadbeat husband.” He had no income, but he was also never home either. He spent 12-14 hour days at his business, one that did not become profitable for three years.

I began planning his funeral at some point after the first year.

It was during this very bad stage of our marriage that I realized I’d been conned with that ziti. I not only realized just how rarely he cooked or how little he cooked, but I also realized just how un-gourmet his ziti recipe actually was. He fussed about that ziti as if he’d personally experimented on it and concocted the perfect, unique recipe.

As it turns out, I’m quite sure his “signature” ziti recipe came from the side of a ziti box.

This really bugged me back then. After all, when one’s marriage is in the pits, it’s realizations like these that can cause a woman to ponder divorce.

We eventually worked on and improved our marriage. I’m happy to report that things between us are much better. He’s home more often, and he does a lot more parenting.

He cooks every now and then, too. Usually he cooks things that go straight from package to grill. But every so often he makes a masterpiece. For instance, one morning, he spent three hours making Belgian Waffles from scratch.

Every once in a while, he makes his “signature” baked ziti, too.

And I have to say this: I have fallen in love with his ziti all over again. That dish has been with us through thick and through thin. It was with us from one of our very first dates. It survived the worst years of our marriage.

And now it has come to symbolize everything that’s good about our marriage, too.

Conned with a “signature” recipe even more basic than this one.

Mark’s “Signature” Baked Ziti
1 lb. ground turkey
2 jars pasta sauce
16 oz box ziti
16 oz. part skim ricotta cheese
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

  1. Brown turkey over medium heat. Drain. Add 1 jar of pasta sauce to the meat. Simmer 10 minutes, until sauce is warm. Remove from heat.
  2. Cook ziti according to package directions.
  3. Add ricotta to the meat and sauce mixture. Stir until incorporated.
  4. Transfer all ingredients—the meat mixture and the ziti—to a large mixing bowl. Mix well.
  5. Add mixture to a large casserole dish. Top with the second jar of sauce and mozzarella cheese. Bake at 400 for about 30 minutes, until bubbly.

So, that giveaway? It’s simple: Leave a comment, telling me what food a loved one used to woo you. Bonus points if you tell me why it worked 😉 I’ll use to choose a winner on Friday, January 28, at 7PM.

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Toni

    I was made a traditional "man" meal by someone on a second date.(steak and potatoes) I was totally enthralled and wnet on to date him for 10 years. He only cooked one other time for me but in his mind he made many romantic meals.

  2. sarah

    My now-husband used to go to the grocery store on his way over to my house, get all the ingredients, and make me excellent veggie and cheese omelets all the time. I didn't realize until quite a while into our relationship that a) that was the only thing he knew how to cook and b) somehow once we were living together, he never ended up cooking again! So your story sounds QUITE familiar. 🙂

  3. Ellen

    My husband-to-be, although I didn't know it at the time, made me a great, simple lunch that totally impressed me.

    He made this amazing, yet simple, tuna salad using fruit-nut mix .Since I came from family where a tuna-sal-sand was always tuna, mayo and once in a blue moon, celery….this sweet and savory lunch was a revelation.

    Every bite had a different sensation, sweet dates, savory nuts, little bits of sesame sticks, such a new taste sensation. He put it in a pretty bowl and put crackers in a basket and it was just the cutest thing ever.

    My husband used to cook for us sometimes, but his work hours are so nuts, he never gets the chance anymore. I'll remember that lunch fondly always.

  4. Jesse

    My husband totally wooed me with his eggs. The man can cook a perfect omelette. And when he does it, there are usually sides of toasted english muffins, sliced tomatoes, Israeli olives and pickles, and hummus on the plate. It takes him an hour, but it's always worth it. I remember bragging about his eggs to my girlfriends when he and I first started dating, and now he's known in my family for those eggs. He doesn't usually cook much else, but the eggs have saved him.

  5. Totally Unique Treasures

    It was hamburgers for us. I had known my husband for a long time and worked with him quite often before we started dating. After Katrina, we started working more regularly with each other and had both just recently gotten dumped. I just happened to know where all the best burger joints in town were and he had never been to any of them and hamburgers are his favorite. So I guess you could say among other things my extensive knowledge of the best hamburger joints and taking him to them on our dates made a pretty good impression. However, I think the real reason he married me, is because I could make a burger much better than the best burger joints.
    We still hit the burger joints where ever we end up, just to see which ones are the best. I guess you could say, burgers are our thick and thin food, too. We have now been together for over 5 years with great things ahead.

  6. JoDee

    Sad to say my ex husband had only one thing he could really cook, that was bacon, he could get bacon crispier, than even my mother. The man was a veritable bacon frying god, and I knew he knew I was upset with him when he would make BLTs.

  7. growfamilygrow

    Valentine's Day, 2003.
    At the time I was a fish, no other meat, eating kind of girl. We'd been dating for a grand total of 2 weeks, give or take a few days. We were supposed to be going out to dinner, but then he calls and asks if I'd be up to having dinner at his house with his roommate/best friend and his girlfriend, both lovely people who we're still close to. Only problem? Our French chef was cooking lamb. Beautiful roast lamb with garlic and beans. I love lamb. So much for the semi vegetarian status I maintained for several years prior. It was exquisite. My honey cooks a fine piece of salmon and some not bad chili, but it is his friends', Christian, Chris G. and Chris S., cooking that wows me. I feel fortunate to be with someone with such excellent taste in friends.

  8. Jenny M

    Not food, exactly, but I was so impressed by how my date (now my husband of nearly 20 years) ordered wine on one of our early dates.

  9. Brit

    My now-husband first wooed me with a plate of stir-fried sea scallops and rice I later found out was out of a Trader Joe's package. Jerk (and I mean that in the most loving way).

  10. Z

    I think my mother-in-law wooed me with food. lol She is a great cook and loves to do it. Now though, I love it when hubby cooks breakfast. I am not a morning person and he makes great fried eggs with all sort of leftovers mixed in. Add a cup of coffee and its a great way to wake up in the morning! Yum.

  11. Jane

    When I met my now-husband, he had never been given the opportunity to try many different cuisines. He and I started trying lots of different foods, and now he's more adventurous than me, and tries to recreate our Indian favourites at home!

  12. hilary

    Venison. I was a vegetarian, slowing phasing back in to the meat-eating world, when we went to The Franklin Cafe in Boston on an early date. He ordered the venison and offered me a bite. I couldn't resist. Reader, I married him.

  13. Faith

    My boyfriend, and hopefully future husband, has always sworn that hes an amazing cook. When I cook for him he sits at the table like a food critic and gives me his review. Hes always made a point that his dream woman can cook well. He had a crush on Holly, the winner of Hell's Kitchen last year. Some of my proudest moments have been when I can cook a dish better than his mom or sister. Needless to say, hes a food snob and die hard foodie. Anyway, back to the part where he swears that he can cook well… One of the first times he cooked for me he made a big deal about making me spaghetti and meatballs from scratch with homemade sauce. He slaved over the stove all day and finally he unveiled his creation. It looked wonderful. I took a big bite and immediately my nose started to run and eyes were tearing. Lol, he added waaaaay too much red pepper flakes. I had to laugh over our "mexican spaghetti" and since then I've gotten a lot more praise over my food and my cooking has achieved the same level as his mothers and sistes.

  14. Casey@Good. Food. Stories.

    In your husband's defense, even we ambitious cooks have a few "signature" recipes that came from the back of a box. My husband's favorite meal/recipe is my penne vodka, which is so simple that even HE can prepare it (and that's saying A LOT! He's never been coy about the fact that he can't cook).

    And the fact that you can get someone to prepare Belgian waffles for you is quite the feat. A cooked-to-order waffle is one of life's great pleasures.

  15. Joanna

    I have an interesting parallel – my fiance made me, on our second date, pasta carbonara. I LOVE this dish – am part Sicilian and grew up in a family of cooks. He even had the pancetta. I learned, in dating him, that he makes this dish, and claims he can roll sushi and make cornish game hens. left to his own devices, he would eat chicken (boiled) and a sweet potato every night. Though I won't be wooed via the kitchen, he makes me cocoa and does the dishes. to this messy cook, that works, for now.

  16. Darcy

    We were long past the wooing stage, but Luke learned how to grill the most delicious salmon ever when I was miserable with morning sickness and only salmon appealed to me, even though he detests fish of all kinds.

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