After wandering through the kitchens of Al Forno, where the chefs were busy prepping for the evening flood of ravenous clients thirsting for decadent foods, I felt the urge to try my hand at cooking one of Johanne Killeen’s most famous recipes: “Baked Pasta with Five Cheeses”, or “Pasta in Pink”. In making this dish, however, I decided to make things a little more interesting by attempting to cook Al Forno’s world-renowned pasta dish for the price of a meal credit.
As Thanksgiving break approaches, I’m sure many of you are running dangerously low on meal credits and points. By this time during my freshman and sophomore years, I had blown through my hefty sum of points on sandwiches, muffins, and iced coffee from the Blue Room. Sometimes we never learn from our mistakes. If you’re worried about starving for the remainder of the semester or spending too much money eating out, l know exactly how you feel. But fear not, for I have a fun and delicious solution for all of your problems. If you enjoy cooking, pasta, and cooking pasta, you (yes, you) can cook your very own gourmet meal for your friends for the cost of one meal swipe each. The recipe for Pasta with Five Cheeses can be found in one of Killeen’s cookbooks, Cucina Simpatica, and is also included in many of Ina Garten’s cookbooks, but for your convenience I have provided you with the recipe. All you need is a kitchen, three friends who enjoy pasta (or less if they have big appetites) and a trip to the grocery store.
Since I recently cooked this recipe, I can personally attest to the fact that it is easy and delicious. The kitchen in my apartment is comparable in quality and size to a dorm kitchen, so if you live in a dorm you can easily make this! If you do, your hall will love you forever. However, I made some rookie mistakes. The first time I went to the grocery store, I forgot to buy Gorgonzola—and you can’t make Pasta with Five Cheeses with only four cheeses. Even if you’re like me, an organized person who deeply enjoys grocery shopping, I would strongly recommend double-checking your shopping list to make sure you have all the right ingredients.
Since the full recipe (included below) yields four servings, I multiplied the cost of a meal swipe by four, leaving me with a $31.40 price limit. Although this may not seem like a challenge, you would be surprised how much cheese costs these days. If you’re lucky, you can even pick up some of the ingredients from the Ratty or the V-Dub, like cooked pasta, tomato sauce, parmesan cheese, and whole milk (to substitute for the heavy cream).
Although I consider myself a decent chef, anyone can make this dish. The pasta mixture took about 20 minutes to prepare, and the best part was I only used one bowl! As the pasta baked, its warm and comforting aroma wafted through my apartment, luring my roommates into the kitchen. When the sauce was bubbling and the top layer began to brown, I took it out to let it cool. About 15 minutes later, which was the longest I could force myself to wait, I scooped myself a bowl to enjoy the fruits of my labor.
Let’s just say that I was not disappointed. Imagine the best macaroni and cheese you’ve ever had but with more texture and a slight tomatoey flavor. The basil provides a necessary element of freshness to balance out the heaviness of the cheeses and the heavy cream. Although one bowl is more than enough to fill you up, I couldn’t help but go back for seconds. Maybe you should take this as a suggestion to invite fewer friends so you can have more servings—but this depends on your hunger and your greediness.
If I had one regret in making this dish, it was my decision not to put the mozzarella cheese on top, which would have formed a layer of oozy goodness. Although the recipe never explicitly stated to put the mozzarella on top, it did indicate that the cheese should be sliced. Instead, I broke up the mozzarella into small pieces and distributed them throughout, which may not have been what I was supposed to do. However, the end result was amazing no matter how I mozzarella-d.
If you decide to make this dish, you might want to keep in mind that it tastes the best straight out of the oven. It also makes a lot of pasta, so this recipe would be perfect for a cold winter night with a bunch of friends. I would also recommend using a very shallow baking dish if you have one. The baking dish I used was a little too deep, so most of the sauce fell to the bottom, leaving the top drier than it should have been.
So there you have it: written and photographic proof that you can indeed make a gourmet meal for your friends for the cost of a meal swipe each. So the next time you go to the Ratty, ask yourself this: would you rather eat Ratty food or make an affordable and luxurious meal that will both impress your friends and taste delicious? Doesn’t seem like much of a question to me.
Penne with Tomato, Cream, and Five Cheeses
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes in heavy puree
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1/2 cup coarsely shredded Fontina
4 tablespoons crumbled Gorgonzola
2 tablespoons ricotta
2 small fresh mozzarella cheeses, sliced
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 basil leaves, chopped
1 pound imported penne rigate*
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
*I used shells instead of penne because at Al Forno the cooks make this dish with shells!
1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
2. Bring 5 quarts of salted water to a boil in a stockpot.
3. In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the penne and butter. Stir well to combine.
4. Drop the penne into the boiling watering parboil for 4 minutes. Drain in a colander and add to the ingredients in the mixing bowl, tossing to combine.
5. Pour the pasta mixture into a shallow gratin dish. Dot with butter and bake until bubbly and brown on top, 25-30 minutes.
These are all of the ingredients in the recipe, excluding salt. However, I ended up paying for more of each ingredient than I actually used. For instance, although the recipe only called for a half a stick of butter, the minimum amount I could purchase was a pack of four.
Here is an adjusted receipt that I calculated based on the amount of each ingredient I used:
2 tablespoons Ricotta cheese: $1.00
1/2 cup Fontina cheese: $3.38
1/2 cup Romano cheese: $3.24
1/2 stick unsalted Butter: $0.69
1/2 lb. Mozzarella cheese: $4.99
4 tablespoons Gorgonzola: $0.75
6 fresh Basil leaves: $0.95
2 cups Heavy cream (16 fl. oz.): $3.49
1 lb. Pasta Shells: $2.49
1 can chopped Tomatoes: $1.34
Adjusted Total: $22.32
Cost per person: $5.58
Featured in Article:
Al Forno: 577 South Water Street, Providence, RI 02903
Photographs by Nikki Betuel
Edited by Rachel Gross