Old-Fashioned Baked Macaroni Cheese Comfort
Chewy and Delicious Baked Macaroni and Cheese
This is baked macaroni and cheese, pure and simple—no three kinds of gourmet cheese, no sour cream, and (gasp) no truffle oil.
I have made this recipe over and over again throughout the years, and I love it. Everyone I serve it to loves it, too. It has just the right amount of cheese and bakes up with a nice crust (I do love a nice crust). The buttered bread crumbs on top add just the perfect amount of texture and flavor.
This is basically a Bechamel sauce to which we add cheese. I have always had the most success with either Velveeta or American cheese. I know these are not fancy, and some argue that they aren't even real cheese, but they make a great baked macaroni. Back when I first learned how to make this recipe, the supermarkets were not filled with as a wide an assortment of cheeses as we have today.
You can make this recipe with any shape of pasta you like, but somehow it just doesn't taste right to me unless it's made with elbow macaroni.
- 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
- 4 Tablespoons butter
- 2 Tablespoons flour
- 1 1/2 cups milk (regular or soy)
- 4 ounces cheese (Velveeta or American)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 cup unflavored bread crumbs
1 cup = 8 ounces
- Cook the elbow macaroni according to package directions and drain.
- Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over very low heat in a medium-size pot. As soon as it is melted, add flour and stir until smooth.
- Gradually add milk while stirring constantly. Raise the heat to medium. Keep stirring until mixture starts to thicken. The mixture show be about the consistency of unset pudding. If it's too loose, gradually sprinkle in some more flour. If it's too thick, add a little more milk.
- Add the cheese, salt, and tomato paste simmer and stir until the cheese is melted.
- Remove from the heat.
- Stir the elbow macaroni into the cheese sauce and pour into a greased oven safe dish.
- Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and stir in the bread crumbs. Sprinkle the buttered bread crumbs around the perimeter of the oven safe dish.
- Bake uncovered at 350 degrees on the center shelf of the oven until the top of the macaroni is browned, about 25 minutes.
I Learned This Recipe in Home Ec
I learned how to make this recipe in my Home Economics class in junior high school (JHS 127, Bronx, New York). This was back when the boys took Woodworking or Electric Shop and the girls took Home Economics so that we could all be prepared for our (proper) roles in life. For teaching me how to make this baked macaroni, I am grateful. I am not as grateful for the only other Home Ec lesson I remember, which was how to scrub a tile bathroom floor on my hands and knees.
What were you required to take in junior high or 7th and 8th grade?
My junior high school was considered to be modern for the time; we were required to wear full aprons, but they could be the aprons of our choice.
If I had stayed in my kindergarten through 8th-grade school, PS 83, I would have been required to wear the apron I was taught to sew, by hand, in 6th grade. It was made of snow-white percale, which we would have been required to keep immaculately clean to show what good housekeepers we would become. We were allowed to pick out bias tape for the edges in whatever color we wanted. I picked kelly green.
But the hat, yes, hat. I'm not sure it was a hat. We made it to match the apron and it wrapped over our hair and tied underneath. It looked somewhat like a cross between a 19th-century nurse's hat or a nun's habit.
Do you find this hair covering stylish?
Horn & Hardart: The Automat
According to my Home Ec teacher, the above baked macaroni recipe was Horn & Hardart's secret recipe, which she surreptitiously acquired from the staff at their Parkchester (Bronx) take out store. (Their secret was the tomato paste, which no one else added).
Horn & Hardart operated the first automats in Philadelphia and New York City. Basically, they were the precursor to vending machines. You put your coin(s) in and a window would open and you could pull out your food item. People worked behind the glass doors, cooking and refilling the slots.
In December 1990, I ate at the last Horn & Hardart Automat on the corner on 42nd Street in New York. We went there as we knew it was scheduled to close soon, which it did in April 1991. By then, it was more of a cafeteria-style restaurant where you pushed your tray along and received food from servers on the other side.
A few items, like pie, were behind the glass doors. The little doors all had the original nickel slots, so I guess it was impractical to expect people to use as many nickels as it would take for higher-priced items.
© 2012 Ellen Gregory