Saturday, September 16, 2023

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

In my 11 February 2023 post, I promised to share a quintessential American recipe with historical ties to the Venetian torchio pasta press. This recipe for Baked Macaroni and Cheese comes from Jubilee – Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking (Clarkson Potter, 2019) by the Julia Child Award winning author Toni Tipton-Martin.

In the recipe’s introduction, Tipton-Martin highlights James Hemings’s role in establishing macaroni and cheese’s American roots. She writes:


“Hemings was an enslaved chef in Thomas Jefferson’s home who mastered the sophisticated techniques of French classical cooking in Paris, including the operation of a ‘maccaroni’ press. As Monticello’s chef de cuisine, Hemings handwrote his recipes; the ones whose records have survived include fried potatoes (French fries), burnt cream (crème brûlée), and ‘Nouilles a maccaroni’ (macaroni noodles). It’s known that he prepared a ‘macaroni pie’ for a White House dinner in 1802. The macaroni recipe turns up topped with grated cheese following its publication in The Virginia Housewife published in 1845 by Mary Randolph, a Jefferson relative.”


Tipton-Martin goes on to document macaroni and cheese’s development by Black chefs, but for our pasta-making purposes, let’s peel off here. To create Nouilles a maccaroni, Hemings used a torchio that Jefferson purchased in Europe. The Library of Congress holds Thomas Jefferson’s drawing of a macaroni machine and instructions for making pasta, ca. 1787.


Here is an image of an antique torchio attributed on Flickr to the collection of the Museo di Serravella.



And, finally, Bugialli on Pasta (1988, Simon and Schuster) contains a photograph of the great Giuliano Bugialli using an “antique Bigolo”.



Tipton-Martin’s recipe for Baked Macaroni and Cheese serves 8 to 10. 


Softened butter, for the baking dish

1 pound elbow macaroni

2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

2 cups shredded Jack cheese

1 stick (4 ounces) butter, melted

½ cup sour cream

3 large eggs, well beaten

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

¼ teaspoon white pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper



1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.


2. Bring a large pasta pot or saucepan of generously salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until al dente. Drain.


3. In a large bowl, combine the Cheddar and Jack cheeses. Measure out 1 cup of the cheese mixture and set aside for the top of the dish. Layer the remaining combined cheeses and macaroni in the buttered baking dish, beginning and ending with the macaroni.


4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, sour cream, eggs, evaporated milk, ½ teaspoon salt (or to taste), white pepper, and cayenne. Pour the cream sauce over the macaroni and cheese. Top with the reserved 1 cup of cheese and sprinkle generously with paprika. Place the dish on a rimmed baking dish to catch any juices that spill over.


5. Bake until the cheese is bubbling and the top is browned and crusty, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving.


Using dried commercial pasta speeds up the dish’s preparation. However, if you own a torchio, you can make approximately one pound of pasta using the following ingredients: 300 grams “00” flour, 2 medium eggs, and 2 medium egg yolks. (I weigh the eggs and egg yolks shooting for a total egg mixture weight of approximately 150g.) Back in 2019 I wrote about a bronze 6mm ridged macaroni die (here) that I bought from Emiliomiti during its World Pasta Day sale. Although a little on the small side, this shape definitely works in this dish. I’ve also made this recipe using pasta from my lumache die.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

La Monferrina's Dolly III

In my last post of 2022, I wrote that I recently purchased an electric pasta-making machine from Emiliomiti: La Monferrina’s Dolly III Pasta Extruder. What is a Dolly? La Monferrina’s website says:

“DOLLY is a small ‘counter top’ machine, compact and reliable; it is suitable both for restaurants and for people who like good home-made pasta. DOLLY can knead by using any kind of flour and it produces long and short pasta shapes by simply changing the die. The machine can be supplied (on request) with a rotating cutting knife for short pasta shapes.”


I thought about buying a Dolly for—as the patient and helpful folks at Emiliomiti can attest—a very long time.  Did I need an electric extruder when the torchio has served me well for over 12 years? Ultimately I decided that the electric Dolly augments rather than replaces my torchio. The Dolly will allow me to explore a range of pasta shapes, especially buckwheat noodles which can be extremely hard (i.e., physically difficult) to extrude with a handpress.


The Dolly will also speed up pasta making when feeding a crowd. I typically use my Kitchen Aid standing mixer to make my torchio-bound pasta dough. After mixing, I transfer the dough to the press to extrude and hand cut. The Dolly combines a mixing/kneading bin with an extruder and a cutting attachment. Making pasta with a torchio to serve 8 or more people can take some time (and, if your dough is hard, muscle). What the Dolly lacks in charm, it makes up in brawn. Push a button and the electric Dolly creates up to 6 Kg of pasta (i.e., a lot of pasta) in an hour. 


I’m very excited to work with the Dolly and write about it in this year’s upcoming posts on pasta making. And speaking of pasta, my next post will feature a recipe with historical ties to the torchio: Baked Macaroni and Cheese from Toni Tipton-Martin’s excellent cookbook, Jubilee – Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking (Clarkson Potter, 2019). Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Best Cookbooks of 2022

Boxing, moving, unpacking and shelving my library only slightly tempered my cookbook purchases this year. Looking back over 2022, publishers released several outstanding titles. I share, in alphabetical order, my picks for the five best cookbooks of this year.


Arabiyya-Recipes from the Life of an Arab in Diaspora by Reem Assil, Ten Speed Press 


Gâteau-The Surprising Simplicity of French Cakes by Aleksandra Crapanzano, Scribner


I Am From Here-Stories and Recipes from a Southern Chef by Vishwesh Bhatt, Norton


Mission Vegan-Wildly Delicious Food for Everyone by Danny Bowien with JJ Goode, Ecco


Pasta Grannies – Comfort Food by Vicky Bennison, Hardie Grant


A little about each of these books.


I find the food presented in Reem Assil’s Arabiyya both tempting and familiar to many of the Armenian dishes I grew up eating. Ruz Arabi (Spiced Rice with Fried Vermicelli) reminds me of Armenian Pilaf (here), save Assil’s recipe incorporates a Seven-Spice mix instead of a mere pinch of cayenne, and calls for oil, not butter, to brown the vermicelli.  Her Lahm Bi Ajeen (Crispy, Spiced-Meat Flatbread) closely resembles Armenian Lahmajoon. Assil jokes that “..if the Arabs and Turks are fighting over their claim to [a certain food], chances are, it’s Armenian.” But what I really love about Arabiyya is Assil’s consciousness of identity and place, before and after her diaspora. Hospitality and remembrance brightly glow in each of the book’s five parts: How to Host Like an Arab; The Arab Street Corner Bakery; The Arab Table; An Arab Finds her Vegetable Roots; and An Arab Finds her (Food) Way. I hope Assil follows up this excellent cookbook with a deep dive into baking.


And speaking of deep dives into baking, Aleksandra Crapanzano’s Gâteau opens with nine takes on yogurt cake and 50+ variations on pound cake. In Gâteau’s Introduction, Crapanzano writes “[t]he French bake at home far more than we imagine. But, maybe more important, they bake far more simply than we imagine, and mostly from a range of classics that lend themselves to seasonal riffing and improvisation.” This truth plays out in the 150 or so recipes that Crapanzano shares in this tight, well-written cookbook. Chapters include: The Simplest of the Classics; Regional Classics; Chocolate Cakes; Cakes to Layer; Madeleines, Financiers, Visitandines; Holiday Cakes; and Savory Cakes. I’ve earmarked Crapanzano’s recipe for Rouleau Fraise-Rhubarbe, Glaçage au Citron (Strawberry-Rhubarb Rouleau, Lemon Buttercream) to bake when spring arrives.


Like Reem Assil’s Arabiyya, Vishwesh Bhatt’s I Am From Here shares how an immigrant transforms heritage recipes with newly found ingredients. Bhatt further adapts the classics recipes of his chosen home (i.e., America’s Deep South) with the flavors of his birthplace. Born in the Indian State of Gujarat, Bhatt settled in Oxford, Mississippi, and identifies as a Southern chef. His cooking earned him the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South (2019) and induction into the Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans, and Chefs (2022). Bhatt divides his fabulous cookbook into thirteen chapters: Rice; Peas and Beans; Okra; Tomatoes; Eggplant; Corn; Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes; Peanuts; Greens; Shrimp; Catfish; Chicken; and Pork and Lamb. Sounds pretty Southern, right? In part! Flip through the Rice chapter and find his grandmother’s Khichadi recipe along with recipes for Dirty Rice Grits and for Jambalaya. The Okra chapter has Bhatt’s take on Okra Chaat and, recognizing the diversity of his American South, a Lebanese Lamb, Okra, and Tomato Stew dish called Bamia (which, if you take out the cinnamon, allspice and cloves, closely resembles my favorite Armenian lamb, okra and tomato stew also called Bamia, which means okra in Armenian). I really love I Am From Here and predict it will win critical acclaim.


A new cookbook by Danny Bowien is exciting news! I find his The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook (2015) massively interesting. Mission Vegan-Wildly Delicious Food for Everyone continues Bowien’s creative evolution. The book shares recipes from his Mission Chinese Food restaurants that just happen to be vegan. Of the Asian offerings the book skews toward Korean. Bowien writes “[e]ating and cooking has long been my way of exploring who I am. My identity, like the food I make, is constantly evolving. Which is why in this book, you’ll find pasta pomodoro in the same chapter as chewy Korean buckwheat noodles topped with dragon fruit ice, tofu skin in the style of cumin lamb, and green tea noodles that taste like Vietnamese pho.” I particularly like Mission Vegan’s chapter on Sauces and Seasonings. I made Mushroom Seasoning Powder and use it whenever I want to add deep richness to a dish. Mission Vegan’s photographs pop off the page and are as intense and bold as Bowien’s food.


Vicky Bennison’s Pasta Grannies – Comfort Cooking makes my list of 2022’s best cookbooks because nearly every single recipe tempts me to cook it. I especially love the book’s numerous baked pasta recipes, like Adi’s Anelletti al Forno alla Palermitana (Baked Pasta from Palermo) and Iginia’s Princisgras (Porcini and Prosciutto Lasagna from Macerata), that, for me, epitomize comfort food. Another baked pasta I want to try: Enrica’s Torta Verde Con Prescinsêua (Cheese and Chard Pie from Genova). Each well-written recipe in the book includes a QR code that, when scanned, takes the reader to a video showing the nonna making her dish. If you love Italian cooking, you will want to check out this excellent cookbook.


I conclude my list with a few of the 2023 cookbooks on my radar. In March, Phaidon offers BAO by Erchen Chang, Shing Tat Chung and Wai Ting Chung, and in May publishes Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu. Katie Parla has a new cookbook due out in March titled Food of the Italian Islands that I plan on checking out. I’ll report on any other interesting offers as they arise.


Now that my move is over and I feel more settled, I hope to post more often in 2023. I look forward to exploring my old stomping grounds and making a lot of pasta. I recently took the plunge—finally—and purchased an electric pasta extruder from Emiliomiti (here) in San Francisco. We’ll say hello to Dolly in 2023.