Sunday, 8 July 2007

PPN#20: Cultures, traditions and macaroni cheese

When thinking through recipes for Independence Day on Wednesday this week, I almost did macaroni cheese, but I felt I had already made one version of macaroni cheese on Sunday and Mexicale Pie was much easier. One of my ‘consultants’ on American food told me macaroni cheese was not a particularly American dish.

The Old Foodie wrote an interesting post on 4 July this year wrote of a book of choice recipes published in 1883 by a Ladies’ Aid Society from California which included a poem on food. The first lines were ‘Grate Gruyere’s cheese on macaroni, Make the top crisp, but not too bony.’ Very amusing – and I’m sure we all have had bony macaroni. Wiki talks of legends about Thomas Jefferson inventing it. So it has long been part of American culture.

But pasta came from Italy originally, and Wiki refers to the similarity to cauliflower cheese from Britain. Not only has the dish fused different cultures but it is part of many cultures. Wiki suggests it is common in British, American and Canadian cultures. I can vouch for it being fairly common here – or once was. But I was interested to find a mention of it on The Old Foodie’s blog. I love

The macaroni cheese that I remember is the one my brother Paul once made me while living with us. It has a thick cheesy almost yellow sauce which seemed more like melted cheese than a milky sauce – and most excellent it was. I have never been as bold as he with the grated cheese but it worked. Mollie Katzen has a recipe for a less traditional macaroni cheese that caught my eye. Interestingly, she describes this one as being in a Russian style.

I’d actually bought the ingredients to make Mollie’s recipe, so was keen to make her ‘lite’ macaroni cheese with cottage cheese, cabbage and caraway seeds. But then I decided my leftover roast pumpkin would be good and that if I made Vegan with a Vengeance’s facon (fake bacon) that it would be interesting to put it in a mac cheese, given that it is traditional to add bacon. Then I got nervous about the facon spoiling it if it wasn’t right. I had so many vegetables I decided to do two versions and put most of it in the freezer for later.

The Russian macaroni cheese was indeed light and given a distinctively eastern European flavour by the caraway seeds. The cheese didn’t come through very strongly, even though I put extra cheese – I had been about to put it in the oven completed with cheese sprinkled on top which I realised I hadn’t added the macaroni. So I added the macaroni and more cheese on top. This one was a little watery and would possibly reduce the cottage cheese or buttermilk next time.

The pumpkin and facon macaroni cheese (which used up leftover cream) was much more creamy and rich. The pumpkin was so well cooked it melted into the sauce but it added to the creamy taste and gave a lovely orange colour. It had a more traditional Italian taste with rosemary added but also pleased me because it echoed the tastes of a traditional Australian roast dinner with rosemary and pumpkin. The facon wasn’t as crispy as I would have hoped – maybe nutroast would be better and then it would truly feel like roast dinner macaroni and cheese (echoing cauliflower cheese too of course). This might be a great way to use up leftovers from my next roast.

I am sending both these macaroni cheeses to Ruth at Once Upon a Feast for Presto Pasta Nights.

Russian Lite Macaroni Cheese
(adapted from The New Revised Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen)
Serve 6

2 cups (250g) uncooked macaroni
15g butter
½ onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
200g mushrooms sliced
¼ cabbage shredded and chopped
1 -2 medium carrots, grated
50g baby spinach
Good pinch of salt
½ tsp caraway seeds
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup buttermilk (less might be better)
1 tsp dried dill (or 1 tbsp fresh dill)
1 cup tasty cheese
Handful sunflower seeds and poppy seeds

Cook pasta according to packet instructions. Fry onions in butter for about 5 minutes in a large saucepan. Add garlic, mushrooms, cabbage and carrot. Cover and cook over medium approximately 10 minutes or til cabbage tender. Turn off heat and add spinach and stir til wilted. Add salt, caraway, cottage cheese, buttermilk, dill and cooked pasta. Sprinkle with cheese, sunflower seeds and poppy seeds. Bake in moderate high oven approximately 40 minutes or til crisp on top.

Creamy Pumpkin Macaroni Cheese
Serve 6

2 cups (250g) uncooked macaroni
15g butter
½ onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
200g mushrooms sliced
150g facon (or nutroast or bacon)
Approximately 400g pumpkin, roasted with skin on and chopped
Good pinch of salt
1 tsp rosemary
50g baby spinach, chopped roughly
1 cup cottage cheese
150ml cream (I used 45%)
1 tsp chilli paste
Handful cheese, sesame seeds and breadcrumbs

Cook pasta according to packet instructions. Fry onions in butter for about 5 minutes in a large saucepan. Add garlic and mushrooms. Cook about 10 minutes or until mushrooms just cooked. Turn off heat. Add facon, pumpkin, salt, rosemary, spinach, cottage cheese, cream, and cooked pasta. Sprinkle with cheese, sesame seeds and breadcrumbs. Bake in moderate high oven approximately 40 minutes or til crisp on top.

On the stereo:
Picaresque: The Decemberists:

6 comments:

  1. Well done on using up that cream. :-D

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  2. thanks cindy - cream feels so decadent it is hard to justify using it - and I much prefer yoghurt - but it is a wonderful companion to pumpkin

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  3. I've tried that facon from Vegan with a Vengance and mine wasn't as crisp as I'd hoped.

    Perfect macaroni cheese weather.

    When will these grey days end?

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  4. you too, lucy! Well at least Isa's pizza dough worked out well - will blog about it soon when I get some time

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  5. Johanna, what a wonderful post. I love the history lesson. And even more....I love both recipes. Thanks so much for sharing them with Presto Pasta Nights.

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  6. thanks Ruth - it is great to see just how versatile macaroni cheese is in using up just about anything in the fridge!

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