Vermicelli and Cheese

Katie Maxwell, Visitor Services Coordinator

This 1802 recipe, developed by Lewis Fresnaye, a vermicelli manufacturer can be found on page 29 of 35 Receipts from “The Larder Invaded” by William Woys Weaver. I love macaroni and cheese in its myriad forms: stovetop, baked, box, scratch, with or without add-ins, so I’m pretty interested in the 19th-century version.  Dr. Weaver states on page 28,

Anyone who makes this will immediately recognize it as the ancestor of that ubiquitous American dish called ‘macaroni and cheese,’ only Fresnaye’s recipe is infinitely better.

A bold claim. Let’s get started.

The Ingredients:

Ingredients for Vermicelli and Cheese

3 qts. water

1 lb vermicelli broken into 1-inch pieces

1 1/2 tsp. Salt

1 tblsp. butter

6 oz. grated parmesan cheese

salt and pepper

Parmesan isn’t really a melty cheese; I wonder how this will work. I’m hoping for something like alfredo.

Add the salt to the water and bring to a rolling boil. Add the tablespoon of butter then the broken vermicelli

Adding the broken vermicelli to the boiling water

I realized just now that I forgot to add the tablespoon of butter to the water.

Boil gently until tender (al dente). Drain but do not rinse in cold water.

Cooked vermicelli, draining

Not sure why I would rinse cooked pasta.

Lightly butter a shallow, 9 x 14 inch baking dish, fill it with vermicelli and pat down evenly with a spoon.

Noodles in baking tray

You may have noticed that my vermicelli noodles are a little thicker than most. There is a simple reason for that. They were the only rice noodles at the grocery store this week.

Spread the grated cheese over the top.

Parmesan topped vermicelli in baking tray

So we’re not mixing the cheese with the noodles. Interesting.

Melt the butter

By the way, four ounces is an entire stick of butter.

and pour it zig-zag fashion over the cheese to distribute it evenly.

Melted butter added to parmesan topped noodles in a zig-zag fashion

Behold the zig-zag!

Bake in an oven preheated to 375°F for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is toasted. Yield: 8-10 servings.

I can’t help but notice that the cheese is supposed to be “toasted,” nothing about “melted.”

Baked vermicelli and cheese

Looks pretty, though.

NOTE: This is best served piping hot with salt and plenty of freshly grated pepper. Chopped herbs may be scattered over the top after it comes from the oven.

Vermicelli and cheese topped with fresh herbs

Sweet basil is an obvious choice.

I don’t have any basil, so I’m using parsley. I think it works, now I just need to try it.

Vermicelli and cheese, served

Well, this definitely isn’t macaroni and cheese. The cheese did not melt into the noodles, so it is more like buttery noodles with a parmesan topping. Very, very buttery noodles. Once I get over the fact that it isn’t macaroni and cheese (and not like fettuccine alfredo either), it’s pretty tasty. Although, I have to say I prefer my own macaroni and cheese recipes, sorry Mr. Fresnaye.

Next time, a return to deserts with Indian Pound Cake.