24 April 2013

AUNTIE PASTA: Mac and Formaggi

CHIAVARI, Italy - I found this recipe for Italian macaroni and cheese the other day and thought I’d pass it along. The article described the dish as maccheroni in a cheese sauce and browned in the oven. It said that this was a recipe typical of the USA where it is called mac and cheese.

Italian Mac and Cheese
According to the article this version of mac and cheese is a substantial dish of maccheroni covered with a cheese sauce and sprinkled with a generous amount of grated Parmigiano cheese which forms a crunchy crust.

The article went on to say that there are many kinds of cheeses on the market and the cook is encouraged to use whatever combinations of cheese appeals to them, and to be brave and experiment with different combinations. The recipe below calls for Fontina and Swiss cheese, but in America the most popular choice is cheddar cheese.

It said a recipe called macaroni and cheese was found in “The Virginia Housewife” cookbook printed in 1824 and called for macaroni, butter and cheese. Over time, bacon and onions found their way into one of the many versions of this recipe. This is considered a traditional American recipe that is still very popular and ‘consumed on a large scale’.

Even though maccheroni cheese is a dish with strong flavors, the author continues, it appeals not only to those who like cheese but to kids as well. The article then went on to say that in America there are many versions of maccheroni cheese in a box. It explained that during the Second World War, when meat was rationed and a large number of women were working outside of the home, they relied heavily on the Kraft company’s packaged version of this dish, making the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner one of the best selling products of the day.

There were two important features that added to its popularity. The first was the fact that it had a shelf life of 10 months thanks to the development of processed cheese, making it a good product for households without refrigerators. And the second was its low cost. Kraft advertised it as ‘a dinner for four in nine minutes at a cost of 19 cents’. No doubt the price was attractive as well.

Celentani Pasta
This recipe calls for a type of elbow macaroni called celentani, but the author says you can use other types, like rigatoni, penne or any other type of short pasta. You can also use any cheese or combination of cheeses that you like, as long as it is a cheese that has a decisive taste and melts well. The original Virginia cookbook recipe called for fresh, not aged cheddar cheese – the white one. The Italian cooks are also advised to reduce the amount of salt they use in cooking the pasta, if the cheeses they are using have a strong flavor.

Serve Four

600 grams celentani pasta
30 grams breadcrumbs
30 grams butter
250 grams grated Parmigiano Reggiano

For the Cheese ‘Cream’ aka Béchamel
70 grams butter
100 grams flour Type OO
1 liter of milk
250 grams Fontina cheese
250 grams Swiss cheese
Nutmeg (to taste)
Salt and pepper (to taste)

Remove the crust from the cheese, then either cut it into chunks and put them in a food processor and chop them into fine bits, or grate them by hand using the large holes on a hand held cheese grater.

Prepare the cheese cream: in a saucepan, make a béchamel sauce by melting the butter, then add the flour and mix together with a wire whip to form a roux. Add the milk and stir over a low-medium heat until you have a dense cream.  Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.

Then add the cheeses, mix and cook for about 7 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted.

Cook the pasta in lightly salted boiling water, a couple of minutes less than the recommended cooking time on the package.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it and place it in a bowl and add a tiny amount of olive oil to keep the pasta from sticking together. Add the béchamel and cheese to the pasta and mix well.  Then place the pasta in a buttered baking dish that has been dusted with the bread crumbs and bake in a pre-heated oven (180° C/ 350° F) for about half an hour, and then under the grill to brown the top and make it crunchy.  Serve hot.

The macaroni and cheese will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days, or you can put it

put it in a plastic container when it is cool and freeze it.

This easy recipe for pork chops with sage and butter would go well with a side dish of macaroni and cheese, even if in Italy pasta in any way, shape or form is always a separate course and never a side dish. But I say, if you are going to eat American food, you might as well eat it the   way Americans do.

 Grilled Pork Chops with a side of Mac and Cheese
Serves Four

4 pork chops
4 cloves of garlic
20 grams of butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Stove top grill pan (recommended)

Peel the garlic cloves. Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the garlic cloves and sage and cook over a very low heat for about 5 minutes – just to flavor the butter – then turn off the heat.

Preheat a grill pan over low heat for about 5 minutes. Baste it with the flavored butter, and when the pan is nice and hot add the pork chops. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the juices are transparent, and serve. That’s all there is to it. 

Stove top grill pans are a great addition to any kitchen. You can buy them at Walmarts, Crate and Barrel and even on e-Bay and use them to grill everything from fish and vegetables to whole chickens, but that’s another story for another day.

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