Comfort foods are in. And fine-dining restaurants across the country are in high gear to embrace foods that aren’t so great for the waistline but fabulous for recalling days when Mom made everything and it all tasted good.
In restaurants like Craft and S’mac in New York City and Simon and Campanile in Los Angeles, chefs tinker with time-honored favorites like mashed potatoes, grilled cheese sandwiches, Snowballs, cotton candy, cupcakes and the king of them all, mac ’n’ cheese.
Kraft Foods introduced a boxed macaroni and cheese called the Kraft Dinner to food markets in 1937 and now sells 1 million boxes a day in more than 30 varieties. The varieties include three cheeses, white cheddar, Sponge Bob, Spider-man and Shrek shapes, microwavable containers, big meals, spirals and shells, and this year they introduced an organic dinner for healthier eating to combat the market share of Annie’s Homegrown.
And the mac attack has made it to Naples restaurants.
So instead of sad little elbows of pasta and powdered processed cheese or liquid Velveeta in a plastic bag, you’ll find four-cheese renditions, mac with lobster, crab and truffles.
You can get your gourmet mac ’n’ cheese as a side dish with crab at Shula’s ($12).
At Truluck’s, it comes with king crab as a side that is big enough ($9.95) to share.
Chops Grill serves a side order of the dish made with four cheeses: Velveeta, mozzarella, and white and yellow cheddar ($5.50).
The Grill Room puts a different twist on the original by adding jalapeno ($6).
Trilogy’s side order of lobster mac and cheese is big enough to eat as an entree if you add a salad ($17).
Naples Tomato plays both sides of the street. It has the mainstay on the children’s menu ($4.95) called Aunt Doris’ Mac & Cheese, and, for the sophisticated palate, you can get an appetizer size of lump crab and corn truffled macaroni and cheese served with scallops ($16.95). Owner Jack Serfass gave us the recipes for both dishes for you to try at home.
If you want the taste of your youth with added calories, try TGI Friday‘s appetizer of mac and cheese made with elbows and creamy cheese that is golden-fried ($6.29). They also have a children’s entree that isn’t fried ($3.99). Cheesecake Factory has a refinement on fried macaroni and cheese — it is formed into balls and coated with crispy crumbs — and served over a creamy marinara sauce ($8.95). CiCi’s Pizza uses the macaroni and cheese as a topping for one of its pizzas, and Sweet Tomatoes serves the original at its pasta bar. Both of these restaurants are all-you-can-eat for one price.
AUNT DORIS’ MAC & CHEESE
This recipe was first made for the Serfass family in the 1970s in Bethlehem, Pa., by their Aunt Doris. It has been a family staple ever since. Kids and adults love the simplicity of this dish, and it is the most popular kids meal at Naples Tomato. Resist the urge to add pepper or garnish this dish in any way. This recipe serves six children or two adults and two children.
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 pound white American cheese (preferably Land O’Lakes)
16 ounces whole milk
Salt to taste
Place the whole milk in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer.
Break the cheese slices into the milk to melt, be careful not to burn the cheese sauce.
In a separate pot, boil the water for the macaroni with a generous amount of salt.
When water is at a rolling boil, add the macaroni and cook al dente or until slightly firm.
Drain the pasta in a colander.
Mix the pasta into the cheese sauce.
Allow pasta and sauce to simmer for approximately 7 to 10 minutes. This allows the noodles to soften and absorb the cheese sauce and a perfect consistency will be achieved.
Salt to taste and serve immediately.
LUMP CRAB AND CORN TRUFFLED MAC AND CHEESE
2 ears of white corn, with corn removed from the cob
2 tablespoons white onion, chopped
3 tablespoons white Alba truffle butter (preferably Urbani)
3 cups heavy cream
3 ounces of black truffle cheese, imported from Italy
3 ounces lump crab meat
Plain bread crumbs, enough for the topping
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
4 U/10 (the size of the scallop and how many in a pound), dry packed scallops
Urbani white truffle oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
3 cups cavatelli pasta, handmade at Naples Tomato
Place a small sauce pot on medium heat on top of the stove.
Add cream, corn and white onion.
In a medium pot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil.
Add a generous amount of salt to the boiling water and bring to a boil again.
Add cavatelli. When they float to the top, they are done.
Strain the pasta and set aside.
Salt and pepper scallops and grill to desired temperature.
Set scallops aside.
When onions are translucent in the cream mixture, place the entire mixture in a blender and puree until smooth.
Return the pureed sauce to the pan and place over medium heat.
Add the cheese and Alba white truffle butter to the sauce and stir until it melts.
Turn off the burner and add the crab and pasta.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Put the pasta mixture in a baking dish (or four individual baking dishes) and top with bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.
Place under the broiler until golden brown.
Drizzle truffle oil over the bread crumbs.
Warm the scallops in the oven and place on top of the pasta.
A LITTLE HISTORY
President Thomas Jefferson served macaroni and cheese in the White House in 1802 and his cousin, Mary Randolph, had her recipe published in “The Virginia Housewife” in 1824.
The first recipe printed on a box — not really a box, but the paper that was wrapped around dried vermicelli and macaroni — was for macaroni and
cheese. It appeared in 1802 for products produced in Philadelphia by Lewis Fresnaye. This is what was printed:
“Take six pints of water and boil it with a sufficiency of salt, when boiling, stir in one pound of paste (pasta), let it boil (about eight minute), then strain the water well off, and put the paste in a large dish, mixing therewith six ounces of grated Parmesan or other good cheese; then take four ounces of good butter and melt it well in a saucer or small pot, and pour it over the paste while both are still warm. It would be an improvement after all is done, to keep the dish a few minutes in a hot oven, till the butter and cheese have well penetrated the paste.
It may be rendered still more delicate by boiling the paste in milk instead of water and put a little gravy of meat, or any other meat sauce thereon.”
—“The Man Who Ate Everything” (1997), by Jeffrey Steingartgen
For a little mac ‘n’ cheese
• Cheesecake Factory, Coastland Center, 2090 U.S. 41 N., Naples, 435-1580
• Chops City Grill, 837 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, 262-4677 and U.S. 41 and Coconut Road, Bonita Springs, 992-4677
• Cici’s Pizza, 2650 Immokalee Road, Naples, 597-0306
• Naples Tomato, 14700 U.S. 41 N., Naples, 598-9800
• Shula’s Steak House, Hilton Naples & Towers, 5111 U.S. 41 N., Naples, 430-4999
• Sweet Tomatoes, 14080 U.S. 41 S., Fort Myers, (239) 489-1150
• TGI Friday, 2110 U.S. 41 N., Naples, 263-1763
• The Grill Room, Coconut Point, 23161 Village Shops Way, Estero, 390-9081
• Trilogy Restaurant, 720 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, 251-1221
• Truluck’s, 698 Fourth Ave. S., Naples, 530-3131