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Jenise

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Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Jenise » Sun Jan 11, 2009 8:33 pm

We were at the store last night stocking up on cold meds for my dear hubby and in need of some kind of comfort food. He really can't taste much. I threw out ideas as we bounced up and down the aisles looking for inspiration, and nothing took until he saw a display of Kraft macaroni and cheese. That's what he wanted, but homemade. So off we went to the pasta aisle where he reflexively reached for a box of elbow macaroni and I reflexively tut-tutted that choice as boring. Why, he wanted to know.

There almost wasn't an immediate answer to that, except that elbows was the shape of the overcooked noodles in the little individual frozen Morton's macaroni and cheeses my mom used to stock in the deep freeze along with the obligatory chicken and beef pies of the same size that were for the nights when mom wasn't up to cooking. Those Morton pies were my first and only experience with macaroni & cheese until well into adulthood, and a food I absolutely detested. And now though I like the dish when it's attentively prepared, I rarely make it (I mean, years pass between forays) and don't have an automatic preference for any other shape. Truth be told it's probably something I make in lieu of plans for anything else, so just use whatever's in the pantry no matter how ill-suited, be that farfalle, rigatoni or penne--my pantry 'usuals'.

I chose shells. Reasoning: thicker, sturdier, a shape that would capture cheese and sauce nicely. They worked just fine, and I liked the way they settled into each other. But is there a better choice? I'm curious what others use.
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Karen/NoCA

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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Karen/NoCA » Sun Jan 11, 2009 8:52 pm

Fusili, Farfalle, Gigli,Gemelli, Radiatori. When the kids were home, they wanted Wagon Wheels. It is the ultimate comfort food, don't you think? And so fun to play around with....add sour cream, or blue cheese, a smoked cheese.....what ever your heart desires.
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by John Tomasso » Sun Jan 11, 2009 9:28 pm

How funny......halfway through your second paragraph, I was thinking to myself, I would pick shells.
And you did. For the same reasons I would've.

The truth is, we rarely ate mac n' cheese in our house. Rather, my mom would make "macaroni pie" which was made with whichever shapes needed using up.
The half cooked macaroni (this was before we started calling it pasta) was mixed with seasoned ricotta cheese and an egg to bind it, and fried. When it firmed up, it was turned out onto a plate, and slid back into the pan to finish the other side. To serve, it was cut into wedges and eaten out of hand.

So unlike those who grew up on the Kraft standard, I don't have any one shape in mind when I think of the dish.
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Stuart Yaniger » Sun Jan 11, 2009 9:33 pm

We have a mixed household. Cynthia prefers shells. I prefer a shape whose name I can't remember- I'd get it at TJ's, came in a cellophane pack. It's like a long elbow, ridged, and twisted. The ones we have here (which look and taste the same) are from da Vinci, called simply, "Twists."
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Hoke » Sun Jan 11, 2009 9:41 pm

I think elbow macaroni and shells perform about the same, in that they 'catch and keep' the cheese well. So you get the pasta and the cheese in one bite. Any pasta with the configuration to catch the cheese is going to work, but the cavities in the elbows and shells would, I think, work the best. Plus, those paste shapes have a bit of chewiness to them (when not overcooked, of course) that the "string" types just don't have. Not til you get to bucatini or such like.


John, the macaroni pie you recall from your Mom's cooking...have you ever seen Big Night? The key piece by Secondo is an artistic version of same. Fancy, fancy, and beautiful, but at heart a macaroni pie. :D
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Cynthia Wenslow » Sun Jan 11, 2009 9:57 pm

Yes, Cynthia prefers shells because they work better than anything else at holding the sauce. :P

This is regular comfort food for me. Sprinkled with some of our Smoked Red Savina when it emerges from the oven.
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Dave R » Sun Jan 11, 2009 10:11 pm

Farfalle, orecchiette, or shells work for me.

Does anyone know the origins of mac n' cheese and what would be a "classic" recipe? When I was a kid my Mom always made it with goat cheese and my friends always thought that was weird. They were probably right by American standards.
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by ChefJCarey » Sun Jan 11, 2009 10:13 pm

I think this is strictly a ratio thing. Some folks prefer a higher ratio of pasta to cheese sauce. Let's face it - the pasta ain't gonna let go of the cheese sauce whatever its shape.

I prefer small elbow macaroni.

Petite and dainty, that would be me.
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by ChefJCarey » Sun Jan 11, 2009 10:15 pm

Dave R wrote:Farfalle, orecchiette, or shells work for me.

Does anyone know the origins of mac n' cheese and what would be a "classic" recipe? When I was a kid my Mom always made it with goat cheese and my friends always thought that was weird. They were probably right by American standards.


Well, I've read (I wasn't there) it was done in the Jefferson White House, but they employed spaghetti as the pasta.
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Jenise » Sun Jan 11, 2009 10:19 pm

Cynthia Wenslow wrote:Yes, Cynthia prefers shells because they work better than anything else at holding the sauce. :P

This is regular comfort food for me. Sprinkled with some of our Smoked Red Savina when it emerges from the oven.


That would be good (I think, though I've never had SRS). I served it last night covered with chopped Bruno's chileno peppers (like the ones I sent you), and today at lunch, the leftovers were sprinkled generousy with Tapatio hot sauce.
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Carl Eppig » Sun Jan 11, 2009 10:57 pm

We do a lot of mac & cheese, and have settled on Campanelle as our favorite shape. It holds even better than shells.
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Steven Noess » Mon Jan 12, 2009 12:36 am

I use cavatappi (which I think is the what Stuart is thinking of?).
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Mike Filigenzi » Mon Jan 12, 2009 2:11 am

Just made this tonight (no, not the Kraft version, but the real thing). I used the same one I think Stuart's talking about. It's like elbow macaroni but longer, wider, corkscrew-shaped, and ridged. It's called "Cellentani". (And I just had to run outside in my bare feet to dig through the recycling bin with a flashlight in order to get that name.)

First time I've made this in years and it came out beautifully.
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Bob Ross » Mon Jan 12, 2009 3:26 am

There are recipes for mac and cheese back in the 1600s, but this one from 1788 sounds pretty good even today. Source: The English Art of Cookery, According to the Present Practice: Being a Complete Guide to All Housekeepers, on a Plan Entirely New; Consisting of Thirty-eight Chapters By Richard Briggs, Pre-1801 Imprint Collection (Library of Congress) Published by Printed for G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1788

Macaroni a la Parmazan.

TAKE a quarter of a pound of fmall pipe macaroni, put it into two quarts of boiling water, with a bit of butter, and boil it till it is tender then ftrain it in a fieve and let it drain, grate half a pound of Parmazan cheefe, put the macaroni into a ftew pan, with a gill of cream, two ounces of butter, a few bread-crumbs, and half the cheefe, ftir it about till the cheefe and butter are melted ; then put the macaroni into a dilh, fprinkle the reft of the cheefe over it, and with a lalamander or hot iron make it of a fine brown, and send it to table as hot as possible.

A similar recipe from 1785 appears in Food in Health and Disease By Isaac Burney Yeo
Published by Cassell, 1785

Of macaroni Sir H. Thompson observes :—" It is certainly to be lamented that so little use is made in our country of Italian pastes. Macaroni in all its forms is, in fact, an aliment of very high nutritious power, being formed chiefly of gluten, the most valuable part of the wheat from which the starch has been removed. Weight for weight, it may be regarded as not less valuable for flesh-making purposes, in the animal economy, than beef or mutton. Most people can digest it more easily and rapidly than meat; it offers therefore an admirable substitute for meat, particularly for lunch or mid-day meals. . . Macaroni might with advantage be prepared at restaurants as a staple dish in two or three forms, since it sustains the power without taxing too much the digestion. One of the best forms for serving it is that known as macaroni d, I'ltalienne, a simple and excellent mode of preparing which is as follows:—Place in a quart stewpan a pint and a half of boiling water j throw in 4 oz. of macaroni; season with salt and pepper, and boil gently for twenty minutes. Strain completely from the water in the colander, wipe out the stewpan, and put back into it the macaroni, with a quarter of a pint of good stock; let it simmer gently until all the liquid is absorbed by the macaroni, a process requiring about twenty minutes. Grate and mix together an ounce of Parmesan and an ounce of Gruyere or good English cheese. Half of this quantity is to be put into the stewpan, stirring the cheese into the macaroni over the fire. When this quantity is dissolved, add the rest of the cheese, together with rather more than half an ounce of butter, and stir until all is melted. Season and serve on a hot deep dish." Milk may be used instead of stock.

Best, Bob
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Stuart Yaniger » Mon Jan 12, 2009 8:00 am

Bob, delighted to see you again! "Can anyone in the claff fpell "Miffiffippi?" As usual, superb research and interesting findings.

Mike, "Cellentani." Yes, that's the one. I'll be that they and the daVinci twists come out of the same factory.
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Frank Deis » Mon Jan 12, 2009 9:35 am

Hoke wrote:John, the macaroni pie you recall from your Mom's cooking...have you ever seen Big Night? The key piece by Secondo is an artistic version of same. Fancy, fancy, and beautiful, but at heart a macaroni pie. :D


For filming that movie they made several versions of the "Timpano." Some of them showed several types of meat visible on the surface, and there is often a variety of chicken and other meats worked in. But when I talked my neighbor into actually executing one version of the recipe, it was just as you said, very bland and a little boring, clearly more "comfort food" than gourmet. In the film everyone seemed so excited about the dish that it was hard to believe it wasn't a little more special.

The dish is shaped like a drum, hence the name (as in tympanic membrane, the eardrum).

F
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Linda R. (NC) » Mon Jan 12, 2009 9:52 am

ChefJCarey wrote:I think this is strictly a ratio thing. Some folks prefer a higher ratio of pasta to cheese sauce. Let's face it - the pasta ain't gonna let go of the cheese sauce whatever its shape.

I like the small elbows. That's my ratio of preference.

Petite and dainty, that would be me.

Small elbows are my choice, too.
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by John Tomasso » Mon Jan 12, 2009 9:54 am

I saw the movie. Some friends and I have been threatening to duplicate it for years now, but have never gotten around to it.
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Howie Hart » Mon Jan 12, 2009 10:47 am

Here's a website that lists a variety of pasta shapes: http://www.ilovepasta.org/shapes.html.
I like Fusilli with mac & cheese, medium shells with mac & tuna salad and elbows with goulash.
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Carrie L. » Mon Jan 12, 2009 11:34 am

I'm with Howie. The best mac n cheese I've had was made with Fusilli.

Sorry to hear Bob is sick Jenise. (Are you over yours? You said you were in bed recovering while watching Food TV...)
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Bob Ross » Mon Jan 12, 2009 11:45 am

Stuart Yaniger wrote: "Can anyone in the claff fpell "Miffiffippi?"


Thankf, Ftuart. Google Bookf haf itf charmf. And I waf too lazy to tranflate.

The 1600f recipe waf in Latin and even more fafcinating textually.

Hope all is going well with you both, Bob
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Bill Spohn » Mon Jan 12, 2009 12:02 pm

I guess this doesn't count, but we've done it with orzo. Comes out with the density of a brick. Then you put it in the fridge overnight, get it out, slice it thickly and serve with some pesto on top as a summer cold dish....

For some reason (posibly nothing more than propinquity) the memsahib has been known to use fusili.
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by ScottD » Mon Jan 12, 2009 12:26 pm

Funny timing. We had homemade Mac & Cheese last night, and I'm having leftovers as I read this.

Small shells this time, but we've used Gemili and Gigli in the past with great success.
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Re: Best pasta shape for mac n' cheese?

by Jenise » Mon Jan 12, 2009 1:32 pm

Carl Eppig wrote:We do a lot of mac & cheese, and have settled on Campanelle as our favorite shape. It holds even better than shells.


The store I was at didn't offer this shape, but had they it would have made instant sense in the same way the shells did. Good choice.
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