Macaroni and cheese is perennial favorite

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Most children name macaroni and cheese as one of their favorite foods. But it's not a homemade recipe they rave about -- it's the boxed type, which is among top-selling items in supermarkets.

Try making homemade macaroni and cheese one night and see how your family likes a creamier version.

First, a history lesson. Food historians have records of Americans, even a president, eating macaroni and cheese in the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, enjoyed eating macaroni with grated cheese and butter, and he also liked a sweet macaroni pudding, according to records at Monticello, his plantation home in Virginia.

However, it isn't until the late 1930s and the Depression that macaroni and cheese becomes the widely popular and loved food that it currently is.

Basic recipes for macaroni and cheese appear as early as 1824 in Mary Randolph's "The Virginia House-Wife." Apparently, Randolph is no fan because she describes the dish by saying it "started out as a misconception of an Italian dish."

In Sarah Rutledge's "The Carolina Housewife," written in 1847, macaroni and cheese is again identified as an "Italian Receipt," and Rutledge's version is similar to the macaroni and cheese recipes of today. It consists of a white sauce layered with grated cheese, in this case Parmesan cheese, and cooked macaroni and then baked for "10 minutes in a quick oven."

More recipes appear in cookbooks from the 1880s through early 1900s. Jean Anderson says in her cookbook, the "American Century Cookbook," that the earliest recipe she found made with "an honest-to-goodness cheese sauce" is in the "Larkin Housewives' Cook Book" (1915).

However, it wasn't a recipe for homemade macaroni and cheese that popularized the dish; it was Kraft, says Anderson.

Here are four tried-and-true recipes for homemade macaroni and cheese:

Marvelicious Mac and Cheese

2 cups (7 ounces) uncooked elbow macaroni

2 1/2 cups fat-free milk

1 tablespoon butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

2 cups shredded reduced-fat sharp Cheddar cheese

1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat sharp Cheddar cheese, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook macaroni according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat milk and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Gradually whisk in flour, salt and dry mustard and simmer for 1 minute, whisking occasionally.

Remove from heat; stir in 2 cups of the Cheddar cheese until melted. Add drained macaroni to saucepan and toss with cheese sauce.

Transfer mixture to a greased 8-inch or 9-inch square baking dish. Sprinkle 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese on top (optional). Bake uncovered until hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

Tomato Macaroni Cheese

1/2 pound elbow macaroni

4 medium tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick

1/2 pound bacon

1/2 cup chopped onion

3 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Milk to cover

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon red pepper

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Cook macaroni and drain.

Cut up bacon in 1-inch pieces and fry with onions. Season with salt, black pepper and red pepper.

Layer ingredients in a greased 3- or 4-quart casserole, starting with the macaroni, then sliced tomatoes, sprinkle drained bacon and onion, then cheese. Repeat layers, ending with cheese on top. Pour milk over layers to cover. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour until browned.

Makes 6 servings.

(From "The Official Cookbook of Central New Orlean's Tomato Fest")

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