May it Please the Palate: Pasta Quattro Formaggi, 25 cents a box


By Nick Roumel

When I attended the University of Michigan, there was a clear class system in the kitchen.

If you were well off, you ate Hamburger Helper. You had your box of hard noodles, powder, and mystery dehydrated vegetables, but you owned that glistening pound of ground beef. That made you the envy of your roommates.

Mac and cheese was a staple of the middle class. It was only 25 cents a box, but you also needed milk and butter.

But if you were too poor for mac and cheese, you ate Ramen noodles. Ten for a dollar and all you needed was water.

And for those times you couldn't even afford Ramen, there was always flour - mixed with water, it made a fine Johnny cake.

One of my roommates had a book called "How to Feed a Family of Four on $15 a week." Even back then in the 20th Century, that was an insane concept. We'd laugh at their advice, like "buy the day old produce and bread" and "gorge yourself on all the freebies at the office." I'm sure those misers are now multi-millionaires. Probably went into some wealth-producing profession, like orange construction barrel manufacture. But I digress.

Mac and cheese has since come full circle - right back to that $15 target - for a single meal, that is. Zingerman's Roadhouse in Ann Arbor was (in)famous for featuring $15 mac and cheese on their menu. Their argument was something like, if we called it pasta, you wouldn't bat an eye. Fair enough.

So I'm going to give you a mac and cheese recipe with a fancy pants Italian name. It's from Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, former partners at the Silver Palate restaurant in New York, and whose cookbooks, including "The New Basics" and "The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook," sold millions. Julee and Sheila had a classical touch but a sense of fun. Ms. Lukins unfortunately had an early passing, but Ms. Rosso now owns the Wickwood Inn, a bed and breakfast in Saugatuck. Their "Macaroni Quattro Formaggi" brings a chef's touch to a favorite comfort food, thanks to a silky béchamel sauce, loaded with yummy cheeses, that you won't resist eating by the spoonful. It's even better than that orange oozy stuff in the upscale boxed versions.

My only major change was to substitute Brie for the mozzarella in this recipe. With its rind peeled off, it gives a creamy richness to the sauce that is unmatched.

Macaroni with Quattro Formaggi

"Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

* 5 tbs unsalted butter (Plugra style).

* 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour.

* 2 1/2 cups milk (whole. Yes, indulge.).

* 3-4 oz. Gorgonzola, Maytag Blue, or Roquefort, crumbled.

* 4-6 oz. Fontina or Grueyere, grated.

* 4-5 oz. Brie or Affinois (after the rind is removed).

* pinch ground nutmeg.

* salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

* 1 lb. ziti or penne, cooked al dente and drained (spend a few bucks and get some good stuff. When the cheese melts into those tender tubes you'll think you're in heaven).

* 4 oz. Parmesan, grated.

* 1 tsp paprika.

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Generously butter a 2-quart baking dish.

2. Melt the butter in a medium size saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook 1 minute to make a roux. Gradually whisk in the milk - the roux will soak it up. Cook, stirring constantly, until you have the consistency of cream.

3. Whisk in the first three cheeses. Cook, stirring constantly, until the cheeses are melted. Season with nutmeg; add salt and pepper to taste. Don't eat it all.

4. Combine the cheese sauce and cooked pasta and mix well. Pour into the baking dish. Sprinkle with parmesan and paprika.

5. Bake until bubbling and top is browned, 30-40 minutes. Serve immediately.

No doubt about this swanky recipe. It's high class all the way.


Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine in Ann Arbor.

Published: Thu, Dec 8, 2011