Thursday, January 17, 2013

4 Cheese Pasta

Last Saturday was a huge work day at the farm.  An unusual winter thaw came our way and we spent the day in short sleeves and work boots catching up on tasks that had been left to wait in the deep freeze of winter.

I love these work days.  All eight of us, leaning into a common goal, telling jokes, shoulder to shoulder building memories and skills.  That sounds a little romanticized, yes?  Well, maybe just a little.  It was one of those magical days when it all went as it should and as we hope.

With big work come big appetites.  Most of my day was spent between two places – the laundry room and the kitchen.  Talk about work horses, that’s what these two areas are.  I don’t love the laundry.  I’m resigned to it, and in a good moment, thankful for the mundane opportunities to serve.  I do love to cook though.  My love language is expressed at the stove and oven, and I place food gifts on a plate at the family table.

Maybe I’ve been reading my new cookbook from Pioneer Woman filled with remarkable food pictures, or maybe I've got a new phone with a camera feature that I am enjoying taking lots of pictures with.  Maybe both.  As the noon meal drew near, I had fun thinking about  the process of and taking images of one of our simple and satisfying Saturday favorites: 4 Cheese Stovetop Pasta.

Reader beware- this is loaded with high calorie make my life worth living goodness.  Don't tell your cardiologist you ate it.  He'll have a heart attack.

1 stick butter
¾ cup white flour (will work with wheat, you’ll just make a few adjustments to match your preferences)
2 cups milk, or milk and heavy cream combined
4 cups chicken stock
1 brick cream cheese
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar
8 oz. block white cheddar, cubed (all kinds of substitutions work for this)
2 tsp. kosher salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
2 boxes Penne pasta (we've used all kinds of shapes/types.  I like change.)
Romano cheese, chives or chopped green onion, bacon to garnish

Remember, we’re a large, physically hard working family.  This will yield about 16 servings – I love having leftovers!

To begin, melt butter in a dutch oven over medium heat on your range.  You can use any heavy bottomed pot, I just happen to love my dutch oven.  And red.   All my enamelware is red.

Once melted, whisk in flour until it begins to turn a caramel color and bubble a little on the bottom of your pan.

I decided to make my roux (fancy french y'all), a little thicker so I tossed in about a tablespoon of additional flour.  Perfect.

Slowly add milk/cream stirring constantly.

And again with the chicken broth – slowly and stirring constantly.

For the record, this post changed. my. life.  At least in regard to chicken broth. Amen.

You might find you play around with your heat setting for this next part.  Your big goal is to not scald the milk/white sauce on the bottom of your pan.  I almost always do.  Something shiny  grabs my attention.  My pets love me when I do this.  They growl with delight and gladiator like enthusiasm when this is all over and the pan gets placed on the floor…For the record, the cats always win out over the dog.

Eventually, maybe sooner rather than later, you’ll notice your sauce start to thicken.  Really you will.  Maybe 12 minutes…depends on how well you manage your flame/heat setting.  Be sure you’re stirring fairly regularly during this stage.  You want to offer the pets a treat not a meal when it’s all over!
See how the edges look different and there's a lovely smooth consistency?

 Add the salt, season with pepper.

 It’s ready for us to add our block of cream cheese.

Before you do though, turn your flame to high under a big stock pot of water.  Soon you’ll want to start cooking your pasta.

Yup, I just drop the whole thing in there.  If there’s lots of interesting things going on in the kitchen I turn the heat down real low and let it dissolve slowly .  If I've done some deep breathing and am really focused, I can keep my heat on medium, stir constantly, and get that big brick to soften and dissolve a little sooner.

Side note- if you know ahead of time you’re going to serve this creamy cheesy delight, by all means take your cream cheese out of the frig and let it soften on the counter .  You know, I often learn more from what I haven’t done than what I do…Just sayin’.

And, while we’re on tangents, you might want to consider having washed last night’s  dishes from the marauding band of ice cream eaters that moved through your kitchen, and the famished farm workers who cleaned your larder out for breakfast.  Of course, I didn’t.  Still smart like that.

Now that I’ve rambled enough, the cream cheese is nicely melted.  Add in the sharp cheddar cheese and the white cheddar.  Stir until dissolved.

Yummo kerrygold cheddar left over from holiday shenanigans.  We're not usually this fancy.

My current range is wimpy, wimpy, wimpy.  Even though I thought ahead on the whole cooking my pasta thing, I probably should have started my water sooner.  Good thing this cheesy sauce is so thick and my beloved dutch oven so even, I can wait a little bit. You're smarter than me though, so your water has boiled and your pasta is now bubbling along nicely.

While you’re waiting, maybe you want to make a bright lemon Dijon vinaigrette and green salad.  I did.

Once your pasta is cooked al dente, drain,  and immediately combine your hot pasta with your cheese sauce in the large stock pot.  Stir. Stir. Do it again. Stir.  There’s lots of sauce and pasta here, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to marry every little bit together.

If you've got a hungry bunch cheerfully breathing down your neck and inquiring every 5 seconds when dinner will be ready, serve immediately.  If you can, clean up a little before you serve.  You’ll be glad you did since you’re gonna want to linger at the table.  I never can.  Clean up before that is.  I’m all about the lingering.

To the table already.  Garnish with bacon (the real stuff – not the bits), green onion, and Romano Cheese.  Take a picture.  I mean a bite. Well, now, why don’t you just clean your plate.  Unless you have pets.

Are you still reading?  Aren't you a dear.  Give it a whirl, and jump back here to the comments and let me know how it goes, ok?

And, for the record, although I've read many recipes over the years for pasta and cheese, this is my own adaptation of all I've made and copied.  No, I’m not trying to be special, just always want to give credit where credit is due.  And in this case, all the credit goes to my hungry farm hands for without them, it would have been cereal for lunch.


  1. Hi Laura,
    Made the dish yesterday! It was wonderful! One of the littles requested shells and hubby added the bacon in and note to self, if chicken broth is forgotten from the store make it ahead time. Or when the roux is made and milk added and then waiting for that broth to cook works too-LOL! It came out delicious and so creamy and it was a hit with our visiting family of 7 (it fed 4 adults and 10 kids!) Thanks again! Looking forward to more recipes :)

    1. Oh, Bree, I was all kinds of nervous nelly wondering if this would turn out for you. Funny story about the broth...I've had that happen more times than I care to confess. Now I'm a chicken broth hoarder...true story. If I'm out my freezer or pantry I start to pace! So wonderful that you shared your home with another family and this dish fed you all.