Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fancy Pants Mac and Cheese

... or Pasta ai Quattro Formaggi for the Italian speakers and/or foodies among us. In the classic preparation you pretty much always have Parmesan (duh), as well as a blue cheese for a little bite, and then a good mild melting cheese like Fontina or Gruyère... but other than that it's pretty free from. You take some cream, reduce it to your desired consistency, and then mix in the four cheeses. Take that cheese sauce and toss it with your cooked pasta. and you're ready to go. Fairly straightforward really, but who wants to clean two whole pots!? Cook's Illustrated... getting in on the one pot and under 30 minute mania... came up with a Skillet Pasta ai Quattro Formaggi (subscription required) recipe that we thought worth trying on a weeknight. The key "innovation" here is cooking the pasta in the cream as you are reducing it.

It came out quite well... loved the interplay of flavors of the cheeses... and it was really, really, easy. The major drawback, which should be somewhat obvious, is that by cooking the pasta in the cream, you have very little independent control of the thickness of the sauce... when the pasta is al dente, you have to stop (if you don't want mushy pasta at any rate)... so what do you do if you want it thicker? Add more cheese? Dunno. The sauce came out with almost the exact same consitency of Kraft Macoroni and Cheese... which is weird... but not really a bad thing, since I really loved Kraft Mac and Cheese as a kid... the "problem", if you can call it that, was that the sauce to pasta ratio was a little on the high side for me. So bring some bread to sop the cheesy goodness up, or just cook the full package of pasta instead of the 3/4ths called for by the recipe.
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots , minced
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 4 3/4 cups water
  • 1 1/4 cups cream
  • 12 ounces penne pasta (3 3/4 cups)
  • 3/4 cup shredded fontina cheese
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Melt butter in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook until softened, about 1 minute. Stir in wine and simmer until almost dry, about 1 minute.
  2. Stir in water, cream, and penne. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring often, until penne is tender and liquid has thickened, 15 to 18 minutes.
  3. Off heat, stir in cheeses, one after another. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.
I don't imagine most of us have that quantity and variety of cheeses sitting in our refrigerators, so I can't see it working as something you'd whip up on a moments notice, but I think it's worth planning as a weeknight thing if you're a Mac 'n Cheese fan. Though... given the ingredients... probably not a great choice if one of your New Year's Resolutions involved losing any weight.