Tag Archives: southern cooking

Southern Macaroni Pie

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Macaroni Pie

Macaroni…. an ubiquitous word. For hundreds of years in the south it was the word for any pasta, which was basically only spaghetti until mid 20th century.

Pie… yet another all present culinary term in the south. Many “pie” recipes here are savory, not sweet and sometimes served in a variety of casserole dishes. Generally they did start out in a pie dish, but were expanded to larger dishes to feed more people.

The inspiration recipe, from my friend Nathalie Dupree, comes from Social Circle, Georgia. Her mother in law made it and Nathalie figured it out over time. I made a smaller amount, as I was only feeding 2 (plus leftovers) and so I did make mine in a pie plate. If you get Nathalie’s book, Mastering the art of Southern Cooking  you will find the original recipe on page 268, along with the original Charleston version from 200 years of Charleston Cooking. Another friend of mine who lived in Charleston many years makes hers with sour cream. I wanted to make mine with the traditional spaghetti but I was lazy, I only had penne, so that is what I used. I also added freshly grated nutmeg, it was calling out to me. I also choose to bake this in a bain marie, as that is how I usually cook custards.

A little about Pasta in America:

Pasta first came to the U.S. via Thomas Jefferson served as minister to France from 1785 to 1789, and was introduced to pasta during a trip to Naples. He returned to the U.S. with crates of “maccheroni” and a pasta-making machine (which he proceeded to redesign). In Most sources, including the National Pasta Association, credit a Frenchman with establishing America’s first pasta factory, in Brooklyn in 1848. A flour miller from Lyon, Antoine Zerega, had a horse in his basement to turn the millstone; and like the Neapolitans, he hung his spaghetti strands on the roof to dry. Today, the fifth generation of Zeregas run the leading supplier of pasta to the foodservice industry in North America.

Spaghetti and meatballs had yet to appear. Macaroni had been brought to England earlier by the Genovese sailors, and the British baked it with cheese and cream—in essence, making macaroni and cheese, a preparation also popular in the north of Italy. They also baked pasta in sweet dessert custards, similar to German-Jewish noodle puddings. These recipes crossed the pond and were enjoyed by 19th-century Americans. According to Corby Kummer, upper-class Americans also purchased pasta imported from Sicily, which then, as today, had more cachet than the domestic product. The information in the remainder of this article comes largely from Mr. Kummer’s extensive piece, Pasta: Where It Came From And How It Got There. 

As other pasta factories sprouted up, the cost of pasta became more affordable. By the time of the Civil War (1861 to 1865), even the working classes could afford a pasta dinner. Cookbooks of the period indicate that the common way to prepare pasta was still baked with cheese and cream.

  • In the mid-1880s, according to food historian Karen Hess, cookbooks published as far west as Kansas included recipes for macaroni, some involving a tomato and meat sauce.
  • But pasta did not become the beloved dish it is today: It lost its cachet once the masses could afford it. The fashionable restaurants of New York, which served Continental cuisine, did not serve pasta or any other traditional Italian dish, even though many of these restaurants were run by Italians.

The huge wave of Italian immigration that began toward the end of the 19th century was ultimately responsible for pasta becoming an American staple.

And on on to our Macaroni Pie…

This recipe is for enough to fill a large pie dish. Feeds 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 3 cups cooked and drained spaghetti
  • 3 Tablespoons butter melted
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 a nutmeg, grated
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 1 pound sharp Cheddar or Gruyere cheese, grated

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

Boil the pasta to al dente

While the pasta boils:

  • Lightly whisk the eggs with the milk
  • Add the mustard, salt, nutmeg, peppers and half the cheese
  • Cut the pasta into 3 inch pieces and toss with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter
  • place half of the pasta into a deep pie dish
  • sprinkle with cheese to cover, then ladle on 1/2 of the custard mixture
  • Add the remaining pasta
  • Ladle on the remaining custard
  • Top with cheese and remaining butter

Bake in a water bath (bain marie) for 30 minutes. check to see if it is browning, if so, loosely top with foil. Reduce heat to 325. Bake 20-30 minutes longer. Insert a knife in the center. If it comes out clean, it is ready. Allow to rest at least 10 minutes before serving.

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Nathalie Dupree’s Food Processor Biscuits

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I have loved and learned from Nathalie Dupree for over 30 years.  She is the Grande Dame of Southern Cooking and quite literally a Grand Dame in the organization Les Dames de Escoffier. . Fortunately she holds court in my new home town, Charleston, South Carolina and I am lucky to be in her presence more often now. I lived in Beaufort and Atlanta in the ’80’s and that is when she first came on my culinary radar. She continues to prolifically produce  work on truly great southern cooking, but it is not the southern cooking your mind conjures up when you hear the term. She is classically trained and most of her early work was more in the “gourmet” realm, though using mostly southern ingredients. She has inspired cooks young and old to do what they do better. She has given us a vast work, including her most recently released tome of great proportion, Mastering the Art of Southern Cookingcollaborating with Cynthia Graubart.  Their book Southern Biscuits is full of perfect recipes and techniques for making biscuits. Believe it or not, there are several different kinds of biscuits! When my step son was visiting last week he saw the book on my cookbook stand and asked, “There is a whole book just on making biscuits?” Yes, Kevin there is. One of my favorite recipes from the book is extremely simple and successful for almost any cook. The one thing you must remember when making biscuits is, “BE GENTLE.” Overworking this tender dough makes tough biscuits. Keeping that in mind, when you use a food processor, just just the minimum amount of maneuvering  the pulse button is your friend. You barely want to mix this recipe, using the buttermilk as the glue that holds the flour together. It is simply the easiest recipe for making biscuits as long as you are gentle, they will be light and fluffy and melt in your mouth.

The three simple ingredients are Buttermilk, Self Rising Southern Flour and Butter (or shortening/lard) It is that uncomplicated.

*Note: If you do not live in the South, or in Wegman’s territory up North, you may have a difficult time sourcing southern flour (made from Winter Wheat), though you can find White Lily on Amazon. Other brands of Southern Flour are :  Red Band, Martha White or Southern Biscuit Flour. Nathalie suggests using a mix of cake flour and all purpose flour to make a flour that is more like Southern Flour. Keep in mind it is the protein in the flour that makes a crispy chewy crust, not what you want with a biscuit. Start with 1/2 all purpose flour to 1/2 cake flour.

Ingredients: 

  • 2 1/2 cups self-rising flour (I keep mine in the freezer so it is nice and cold), divided
  • 1/4 cup (half a stick) of butter (or any combination of butter, shortening or lard) cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1/4  cup (half a stick) of butter (or any combination of butter, shortening or lard) cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 1 cup of buttermilk divided

    Method:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. I bake in a convection oven on the convection bake selection.

Select your pan; for softer biscuits place in a greased 8-9″ cake pan or skillet. For crispy exterior, place on a greased baking sheet about 2″ apart.

  • In the bowl of a food processor, pulse 2 1/4 cups of flour with the knife blade 4-5 times. Set aside the remaining 1/4 cup of flour.
  • Scatter the chilled butter pieces around the bowl of the processor.

  • Pulse 2-3 times quickly, no piece should be larger than a pea
  • Add 3/4 cup of buttermilk, reserving the remaining 1/4 cup
  • Pulse briefly to incorporate the liquid, resulting in a shaggy dough, then remove the lid and feel the dough, it needs to be wet but not sticky. If needed add more flour or buttermilk to achieve this result, but do not over process.

  • Pour the dough out onto a chilled floured surface and allow to rest for a minute
  • Gently flour the dough and roll into a ball with floured hands, then, roll over again into a disc. GENTLY

  • Using a rolling pin flatten the disc to about 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick
  • Using a floured cutter or glass, cut into biscuits
  • You can roll out the scraps for a final biscuit, but I usually toss because this one will be tougher
  • Place in your baking pan
  • Bake for 6 minutes on the middle shelf, then turn the pan so that it is evenly browning. If the bottom looks like it is browning too fast, you can add a baking sheet under it
  • Bake for another 4-6 minutes, until the tops of the biscuits are a light golden color
  • Remove from the oven and brush a little softened butter on them.

 Enjoy with honey, butter, jam or gravy!