I just love to see people’s faces…people not from the south, that is…when I talk about macaroni pie. I kind of do it on purpose, knowing they are trying to reconcile the sinful sweetness of fresh ripe peach pie in a homemade sweet pastry crust with pasta and tangy cheese. Not really what I want to eat either.
Then as I explain, they always say, “but I like my macaroni and cheese creamy.” Ha! If you’re eating Charleston Macaroni Pie like I grew up eating, then it is creamy. If you’re not, the cook should be shot!
The key is in the….custard. Yep, macaroni pie uses a custard…a milk, egg, and flour mixture that “sets”. It doesn’t scramble or cook hard like eggs alone, but neither is it juicy from the milk.
Here’s what you’ll need from your pantry and fridge…because every home should have these ingredients at all times!
- 1 box of elbow macaroni
- 1 lb of sharp cheddar cheese, grated in 1/4 lb piles
- 1/2 stick of butter
- 4 whole eggs
- 2 cups milk
- 1 tsp ground mustard (never use prepared, ick)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp pepper
Some notes on the ingredients:
Naturally any bite-sized pasta will do, but theres just something about the way truly good and creamy cheesiness slides off of the elbow curls all the while evading your fork!
A variety of cheeses, even a combination, can certainly be used, but sharp cheddar is traditional and basic.
Arguments may now ensue regarding the fat content of the milk…anything from heavy cream to canned condensed milk to half and half to skim. Personally, I find that it doesn’t matter which one you use as long as you are conscious of the consistency of your custard.
Okay, now to get cooking:
Boil your pasta just like the box tells you to. I like to start with scalding hot water in the pot; it will boil almost 2 minutes faster.
While the pasta is going, cut your block of cheese into 4 equal pieces and grate in individual piles. This will make it much easier to mix into the hot pasta in batches.
And before the pasta is done, whisk together your eggs, milk, dry mustard, salt and pepper. Now once you’re more experienced in making this, you’ll be able to adjust the balance of this custard to meet your desires…creamier set demands perhaps one less egg and a little more milk while a firmer set calls for the same mix but perhaps 2-3 egg whites added. Regardless, you always need approximately 3 cups of custard mixture per recipe.
As the pasta finishes boiling, get ready to mix fast; you want to take advantage of that steaming hot pasta to create the creaminess that is the base of macaroni and cheese. Quickly dump your pasta in a colander, draining just slightly, maybe 5 seconds at the most. Pour the pasta right back into the hot pot, add the butter (cut into slices), sprinkle over 1/4 of the cheese (one pile if you followed my instructions), and about 1/2 cup of the custard mixture.
And stir…a lot…gently…watching for all of the cheese to “disappear” as it melts. Then add another pile of cheese and keep stirring. When that one’s all melted in, add a third pile of cheese.
At this point, you should be able to eat a spoonful of the macaroni and cheese and think to yourself, “Wowsers, I can’t believe I ever ate the stuff out of the box! But why on earth should I bake this rather than eating it right now?” Simple, it gets better, trust me!
Pour your macaroni and cheese into a greased baking dish (9×13) and spread it out nice and even with your spoon.
Pour in your remaining custard mixture, letting it sink in and settle out evenly.
Finally, sprinkle the remaining pile of cheese over the top; this will make a scrumptious crust on top of the pie.
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on humidity. When it’s done, lightly touch the center to test for springiness; you want the pie to bounce and jiggle, but not squirt out juice.
Macaroni Pie is a classic southern dish that is traditionally served as a side dish with anything at all: chicken, bbq, ham, steak…probably not fish or seafood, though. It can also be easily transformed into a complete meal casserole with the substitution of half of the cooked pasta for meat and vegetables; I’m fond of chicken and broccoli, myself.
PS–this is what I made to go with ginger ham and blue cheese cole slaw on Rapture Day (aka May 21, 2011).