Some Pasta to Crow About!

My family coat of arms from Fanano, Italy.

My family coat of arms from Fanano, Italy.

Roosters have always had a fond place in my heart and in my kitchen. My maternal grandfather’s family coat of arms has three white roosters against a blue chevron and a gold background. A blue chevron signifies protection and the roosters represent the same. Roosters are fierce protectors, similar to your sweet pet Rottweiler, they watch over a barnyard with aplomb, knowing their vigilant duty is to guard the hen folk. I have a rooster in my kitchen, he proudly sits atop my plant shelf reminding me of my ancestral ties and protecting my family from any bad mojo in our home.

What does all this have to do with pasta? Well, there is a pasta shaped like the rooster’s cockscomb or crest…you know the red, wavy doodad on top of Foghorn Leghorn’s head? The pasta is half-moon shaped with a ribbed surface and a curly edge resembling the rooster’s crest. Like elbow macaroni with a Rhianna mohawk! It’s called creste di gallo and it’s no surprise there is a pasta giving nod to such a fearless, courageous animal in Italian history.

Creste di Galli

Creste di Galli

The rooster’s significance in Italy dates back to 1478 and is tied to the most rich and powerful family in Florence, the Medicis . A rival wealthy family, the Pazzis, wanted to gain complete power over the Medicis so they, pardon the pun, hatched a plan to assassinate the Medici brothers, Giuliano and Lorenzo. The Pazzis knew the Medici brothers loved to throw great feasts where the vino flowed until everyone, including the guards, passed out from all the fun. The Pazzis waited until one such night and sent hired goons to the Medici property after the party goers had fallen into catatonic states. The assassins began their sneak attack through the barnyard en route to the estate but their plan was foiled when the Medici roosters began to screech hysterically and attack the intruders. It woke the guards and the brothers who then captured the assassins. Giuliano and Lorenzo were so thankful to the roosters, they held another party in honor of these fortuitous birds. The celebration boasted commissioned wine pitchers made in the shape of roosters, plates emblazoned with the birds, and of course pasta resembling the roosters crest to represent the courage displayed.

Of course this is only legend, the truth of the matter is the Pazzi clan eventually killed Giuliano as he was entering the duomo in Florence one Sunday. His brother, Lorenzo, managed to escape and the townspeople, loyal to the Medicis, made like the mob and took care of the Pazzis in let’s say, fine, mafioso fashion.

Death of Giuliano de' Medici in the Duomo, Florence in 1478.  The Pazzi Conspiracy

Death of Giuliano de’ Medici, The Pazzi Conspiracy

I decided to honor my creste di gallo pasta with a dish I call $40 mac and cheese. Don’t cackle, when you are using pasta symbolizing  the wealthiest and most powerful of Florence you must splurge! It actually costs less than $40 and it does feed a big “brood”. It is absolute creamy, cheesy nirvana and if there are any leftovers you will want to hide them for yourself. Make sure you hire a rooster to protect against intruders pillaging for those last luscious bites.

$40 Mac and Cheese ( a Vixen’s version of Martha Stewart’s Macaroni and Cheese)

Serves 12


6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for dish

1/2 cup of bread crumbs or cornflake crumbs

5 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

4 1/2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese (about 18 ounces, I like Tillamook from Costco)

1 cup grated Gruyère cheese (about 4 ounces) and 3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 3 ounces)

1 pound creste di gallo or other macaroni type pasta


The cast of characters in your mac and cheese conspiracy.


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish or an 9×11 Pyrex; set aside.

In a medium saucepan heat milk. Melt butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, whisking, 1 minute. While whisking, slowly pour in hot milk. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.

Remove pan from heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 3/4 cup Gruyère and 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano; set cheese sauce aside.


Fill a large saucepan with water; bring to a boil. Add pasta; cook 2 to 3 minutes less than manufacturer’s directions. Transfer pasta to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce

Pour mixture into prepared dish. Mix together and sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese,1/4 Gruyère or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano, and breadcrumbs or cornflake crumbs over top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool 5 minutes; serve hot. You can divide the recipe in half, but do not hold me responsible when there is an uprising at your dinner table.


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