Today, Hubby and I will cheer for our grandson’s football team. Afterward, he’ll want to eat the house.
To spare his family’s abode — and to celebrate victory or comfort in loss — I’m baking this special player’s favorite macaroni and cheese.
An all-American dish, right?
Nope. Historians believe a 14th-century Italian cookbook, Liber de Coquina, contains the first written mention of pasta and cheese. Americans can thank Thomas Jefferson, who brought a macaroni and cheese recipe and pasta maker home from Europe.
My football player probably isn’t interested in mac ’n’ cheese history. He simply wants to fill that huge emptiness inside. Grandma boasts two recipes: his great-grandmother’s, plus one recently discovered on the Internet.
Unlike many 1960s homemakers, Mom didn’t cook the 19-cents-a-box food made popular during the Depression. Instead, she boiled spaghetti, then added inexpensive margarine and whatever cheese had escaped five-kids-in-the-house foraging.
Her recipe proved invaluable during my Hubby’s medical school years. I’ll never forget one spaghetti-and-cheese supper, when he’d lost sleep several nights. After saying grace, I looked up to see Hubby facedown in a plateful of our entrée.
Fast-forward several decades, when he invited students for a cookout. Would they consider my spaghetti fetish — and me — weird? Risotto or gnocchi might boost my sophistication ratings, but food costs would skyrocket.
Cheap won. For the first time, I prepared mac ’n’ cheese — not only popular with students, but later, with our grandson.
Not everyone welcomes different versions, especially as cheese enthusiasts rarely compromise. Some insist on American or cheddar. Discerning palates may require brie, smoked Gouda, or goat cheese.
Others, if stranded on a desert island, would refuse the stove-top version, as real mac ’n’ cheese demands an oven-baked crust.
A recent San Francisco macaroni and cheese contest’s entries might raise Midwestern eyebrows, with additives like nutmeg, mustard, and even cinnamon and sugar. Vegetables took center stage: mushrooms, tomatoes, brussels sprouts and that darling of the veggie world, kale.
Some even added fruit, such as figs.
The judges, including Smithsonian Magazine writer and cheese merchant Gordon Edgar, awarded first place to macaroni and cheese featuring aged Vermont cheddar.
The cultured audience, however, chose a different entry — and were shocked to silence when the winner revealed his main ingredient.
This dish, even in its many variations, has and will endure. When my football-playing grandson needs comfort or celebration food, mac ’n’ cheese will be there for him.
Americans’ political views are even more diverse than our versions of macaroni and cheese. But acknowledging differences, can’t we lean on the basic recipe, our comfort and celebration for almost 250 years?
I want that to be there for my football player, too.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite macaroni and cheese recipe?