I wasn’t always a cook. But like a lot of us I was cooking long before I learned how to cook. Does that make sense? Let me put it this way: today’s Macaroni Pie comes from a time in my life when I didn’t cook, but I had to eat and I had to do it cheaply.
Back in the day (you know, college) I often threw together some version of Macaroni Pie. I never used a recipe when I cooked it, but it turned out perfect every time. Oddly, now that I do cook, I still don’t always use a recipe. I guess I’ve come full circle.
Macaroni Pie played a big part in my younger years so I think this humble pie deserves a place on this blog. I’ll include a recipe, in case you prefer to use a recipe when you cook. But you have to promise you’ll read the story about my days of not cooking.
I think we need to start with a definition. When most people say Macaroni and Cheese, they mean that rich and creamy baked pasta dish. It’s usually served piping hot with a molten Béchamel-based cheese sauce (known as Mornay in France). The famous Mac & Cheese in the blue box is a simplistic version of that iconic creamy noodle dish. In fact many of my college-aged peers survived on the boxed version. Not me however.
When I think of the Macaroni and Cheese I preferred when I was in college, I think of Macaroni Pie. A dish introduced to me by a woman in Georgia named Aunt Delores. She wasn’t my aunt, but I visited her more regularly during the first 18 months of my college career than just about anyone else I can think of.
That’s because I had this girlfriend in college. Pam was a local Tallahassee girl. She was always dragging me by her relatives’ houses for meals. Her particularly favorite dining destination was her Great Aunt Delores’ house.
Aunt Delores was a character, and I sometimes had trouble abiding her, but man could she cook. She lived just over the border in Georgia. She had lived there her whole life and never once ventured an hour south to visit her mostly relocated family in Florida. When asked to come and visit she used to say, “I can see Mars from my front porch, that don’t mean I’m going there”. Whatever that means…
On one particularly scorching Georgia afternoon we pulled up in my little Toyota. Sure enough, there was Aunt Delores sitting on her porch watching her programs. She kept a TV on her front porch, never worrying that it might get stolen.
When she saw us coming she said, “Stop right there you kids. If I told you once I told you a million times, I don’t cook when it’s hot”. Well she certainly never told me once (let alone a million times). So the shy kid in me turned on his heels to leave. But Pam was undaunted and plopped herself down on the sofa. Yes, there was a sofa on the porch too.
Eventually I joined them and we watched Aunt Delores’ program. It was General Hospital during the peak of the Luke and Laura craze, so there was no talking allowed.
Once Luke and Laura had finished their cooing for the day, Aunt Delores stood up and said, “Grab that skillet” – which even I knew was kept under the sofa. I also knew that though I may be grabbing a skillet, we’d be making pie. Macaroni pie, and by we I mean me.
The thing about Macaroni Pie is this: sure it’s good when you make it, but it’s way better the next day (or even the day after). This was of course Aunt Delores’ plan. She always wanted to send us home with food.
Let me try to describe Macaroni Pie. When it’s done right it’s closer to quiche than the standard Mac & Cheese. That’s because the cheese in Macaroni Pie is held together with egg rather than Béchamel. It’s easy to make too. There are only three or four essential ingredients and it’s okay to “eyeball” them, as Aunt Delores would say. Once chilled it can be turned out of the skillet forming a pie. That way, when the urge strikes a slab can be carved off. You could reheat it if you want to be one of Delores’ fancy boys, but it’s actually best cold, slapped in hot sauce and served on top a big pile of crunchy iceberg lettuce. It can also be eaten out of hand on the go. You don’t even have to be going to class to enjoy a slice. GREG