Macaroni and cheese was a dish for elite Americans in the 19th century, but as the price of the Yankee Doodle noodle came down, its popularity increased. When Kraft introduced its boxed version in 1937, it earned its place on the kitchen table of families across the nation. It is a childhood favorite, a college staple and a de-stressor for even the most devoted foodie.
Around Columbia, kitchens everywhere have that special recipe tucked away.
Patty Clover, owner of Clovers Natural Market in Columbia, said that good quality is a must. She follows this rule in her markets and at home. Her version of macaroni and cheese uses spelt products instead of wheat and soy milk instead of any dairy.
“I have found that I feel better if I don’t eat wheat,” Clover said. The cheese in her recipe can also be substituted with soy cheeses, but her favorite is sharp cheddar. For a twist on her standby, Clover adds green chilies to the top.
“If you’re going to eat mac and cheese, make it the way you like it,” Clover said. “It’s such an emotionally satisfying food — if you try to make it healthy, you won’t like it as much.
“It’s when I feel like I deserve a real treat, after I’ve had a real busy hectic day. When it’s a cold day, high stress — mac and cheese.”
Debbie D’Agostino, owner of D’Agostinos Italian Restaurant and Bar, said she would not be a good representative for a low-carb diet.
“I could eat pasta three meals a day easily,” D’Agostino said. “I’ll have soup and I’ll throw pasta in it. I’ll have chili and throw pasta in it.” Her recipe for macaroni and cheese is not on the restaurant’s menu, but is used occasionally in her own kitchen. D’Agostino said people should remember that cooking is about food. For her, cooking is a form of meditation.
“The more preparation the better,” D’Agostino said. “The more you have to chop, the more time it takes, the more you get into the rhythm of just thinking about the food and you’re not thinking about problems anymore.”
Her recipe is a classic; it calls for a basic roux that she said is just gravy. D’Agostino sometimes substitutes Tabasco for the dry mustard and shells for the elbow macaroni.
“The sharp cheddar has a different consistency — American melts better — but sharp gives it that nice crusty top,” D’Agostino said. “The other thing I put on is Romano with the other cheese.”
If time is of the essence, Janet Mountjoy’s, Mac-a-chizazz is worth giving a try. In this kicked-up version of the old standby, time and taste have no correlation. A jar of pimento and a can of water chestnuts are just a couple of the ingredients that make this recipe an instant hit.
Mountjoy, who lives in Fayette, likes this version because you do not have to cook the macaroni. She chops her own onion and uses broth from a chicken, but buying things in cans can reduce prep time.
Mountjoy said this recipe is great for those on a budget. She and her husband raised four children, and it was not just about making a lot of food, but also keeping it inexpensive.
Being with family is her reward for time in the kitchen.
“We always had dinner together,” Mountjoy said. “I think it’s really important for a family to just spend that time and be able to share their day and what’s going on in their life.”
Either topped with fresh crumbs and full of spelt, sharp and creamy, or mixed with veggies and chicken, your next batch of macaroni and cheese is sure to satisfy your craving.