By Ellen Wheeler
Soup, salad, casserole, goulash and of course everyone's favorite — with cheese. However you use the versatile elbow shaped piece of pasta we know as macaroni, it is sure to be a crowd pleaser. And since most Americans consume over 160 servings of pasta each year, it is only fitting that there be a day set aside to observe “macaroni.” This year we will celebrate macaroni on July 7.
In America, when we talk about macaroni we usually mean a narrow tube like pasta in the familiar elbow shape. But for Italians, and many other nations around the world, macaroni is the generic term for dried wheat pasta cooked in broth or water and refers to any elongated pasta.
Like many of us I grew up being taught that Marco Polo discovered macaroni in China and then brought it back to Italy where it became a staple in Italian cuisine. It turns out the actual history of pasta is much more complicated and disputed. The invention has been attributed to the Etruscans, Chinese, Greeks and Romans. Figuring out the time and place macaroni began rests on figuring out what kind of wheat was used to make it. But the earliest evidence of the grandparents of macaroni seems to be in medieval times at a juncture of Sicilian, Italian and Arab cultures.
All I know is, as a mother I am in debt to whoever came up with this masterpiece of culinary art. Macaroni has a nearly unequaled shelf stability. It is easy and fast to prepare and requires little in the way of cooking skills - - a big plus for a busy mother. Macaroni is unendingly versatile as a menu item. A quick Google search reveals thousands upon thousands of recipes.
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However you prepare this appetizing miracle, it is nearly universally applauded. Almost everyone loves eating pasta. Thomas Jefferson is credited with bringing the first pasta machine to America. And in the early 1800s he served, "a pie called macaroni" at a state dinner. In 1824 a recipe called "macaroni and cheese" appeared in the influential cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, written by Mary Randolph. The dish has grown in popularity ever since.
Macaroni is not just useful in the kitchen, especially for a mom. Macaroni is nearly as useful in crafting as it is in cooking. As a kid I always made fun of crafting with macaroni. But in the early days of my marriage, when my husband and I were flat broke, we did glue various kinds of pasta onto tin cans and spray them with gold spray paint as gifts for Christmas time.
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I grew up with the simplest of macaroni recipes: Three ingredient stovetop, macaroni and cheese; a dish we referred to as American macaroni (macaroni and tomato juice); and macaroni salad (macaroni and mayonnaise). And on very special occasions my mom would bring home that coveted blue box full of small macaronis and delicious bright orange cheese powder! What a treat! Luckily, my brother married a beautiful southern girl and we have adopted her family macaroni and cheese recipe as our own.
Aly’s Family Mac ’n Cheese
One Pound Box of macaroni
3 cups of milk
3 cups shredded medium cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 1/2 t salt
dash cayenne pepper (optional)
2-3 T butter (to grease casserole pan)
Preheat oven to 375°.
Boil macaroni according to the directions on the box.
While the pasta is cooking prepare 9x13 casserole pan by greasing bottom and sides with butter. Toss the medium and sharp cheddar cheese together to evenly distribute. Sprinkle a thin layer, about 1 cup of cheeses in the bottom of the casserole pan. Be sure the cheese reaches the corners. Place the the milk, eggs, salt and dash of cayenne if desired, in a bowl, whisk together. Add two cups of the remaining cheese mixture to the milk and eggs, stir to combine. When the pasta is cooked to al dente, drain. Be sure to shake off any excess water. Layer about half the macaroni on top of the cheese layer. Pour half of the milk/cheese mixture over the macaroni in the casserole pan. Layer in the rest of the macaroni. Pour the rest of the milk/cheese mixture over the top of the pasta. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top of the casserole.
Bake at 375° for 45 minutes.
However you choose to celebrate, whether it is in the kitchen or the craft room I hope you have a wonderful day of macaroni.
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