Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Before you launch that low-cal routine, spend some quality time with the just-released "Macaroni & Cheese," by Marlena Spieler ($16.95 paperback, Chronicle Books). It's written in a not-so-serious style, yet remains respectful of the dish's iconic status.

There are 50 certifiably different recipes, some stove-top quick and some meltingly baked with alluring names such as Macarrones alla Malaguena (a Spanish take that uses red bell peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, chorizo, peas, green beans and briny green olives) and Happiness Macaroni With Ham, Peas and Many Cheeses (the version that inspired Spieler to write the book).

While you're trying to decide whether to go Greek, Italian, Cajun or Yankee Doodle Dandy, you may learn things about mac and cheese, too. Spieler, a formidable cookbook author and food personality who lives in Hampshire, England, speaks with authority and has done the research.

The first written recipe for the dish, she tells us, appeared in "The Experienced English Housekeeper" in 1769. Thomas Jefferson featured macaroni and cheese countless times at his Monticello table, and it's been comforting Americans ever since.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company