In my home we can talk religion, we can talk politics, but we cannot talk about what makes one person’s baked macaroni and cheese better than the next. My Aunt Sue will go into her method step by step, claiming she has gleaned her technique from every famous soul food restaurant north of 125th St. I have yet to figure out why this creamy carb fueled all American dish can start such family feuds, but I’m always willing to sit back and enjoy the show.
Macaroni cheese to the English, maccie the cheese as my son calls it or baked macaroni hot dish as my grandmother would say, the dish first started showing up in cookbooks during the 1800s. Quick and inexpensive to make, the dish wasn’t found on fancy restaurant menus until recently.
For those of you who remember Horn and Hardart’s Automats –and those who don’t — check out the fascinating Lunch Hour NYC exhibit at the New York Public Library (now through February 17). My kids and I had so much fun pretending to drop nickels into the Automat slot and opening the door to get pretend food while my husband was pontificating about his boyhood days…”When it cost more than a nickle darn-it!”
1/4 lb. elbow macaroni
1 1/2 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
A dash of white pepper
A dash of red pepper
1 1/2 cups of milk
2 tbsp. light cream
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup canned tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp. sugar
Cook macaroni according to the directions on the package.
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Melt the butter in the top of a double boiler. Blend flour, salt, white and red pepper in gradually. When smooth, add milk and cream, stirring constantly. Cook for a few more minutes until it thickens.
Add cheese and continue to heat until it melts and the sauce looks smooth. Remove from heat. Add cooked macaroni to the sauce. Add the sugar to the tomatoes and add to the sauce.
Pour mixture into a buttered baking dish and bake until the surface browns.
There are over 101 ways to make this dish with a 101 secret tips. My favorite method is to use campanelle pasta, adding equal amounts of shredded mozzarella cheese and shredded cheddar cheese, and then adding cream cheese and salt. Other tips are to cook the pasta in the milk or to use a bechamel sauce as your base. Others like it baked with bread crumbs on top and stewed tomatoes on the side. Some like it hot, some like it cold, but throw that crap away if it has been in the pot and it’s nine days old!
What is your secret weapon for making the best macaroni and cheese? And when you go out, what’s your favorite place to order it.
In Montclair, Mancinni’s Coal Oven Pizza has been tempting us with talk of a smoky pancetta and paprika mac n cheese. Barista Kids proclaims that Ruthie’s BBQ/Pizza makes the ultimate killer mac. Then there’s the build-your-own mac n cheese (with add-ons like bacon, bread crumbs, jalapenos or cheesesteak) at CARS Delivery. Over in Bloomfield, Orange Squirrel serves a fontina mac and cheese.