Trini-style Macaroni Pie
Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday of the year. My family always does it big down in Florida, and I love the coming together of friends and family of all ages, the hustle in the kitchen with my mom and me and other intruders…I mean, helpers..., the beautiful cool, fall weather (yes, even in Florida). Ours is a whole day affair with people stopping by at different points in the meal, card games at the kitchen table later followed by a second session of eating in the evening.
Our table is a complete mash-up! A humungous turkey filled with my mom’s famous stuffing that my dad carves to perfection, a plethora of South Asian, African and other international dishes to complement, one definite chocolate dessert as well as everything else under the sun. Thanksgiving isn’t too far away, and I’m inspired by my table to bring dishes to you that you might want to try for your own Thanksgiving. This gives you ample time to do a trial run and see what you like.
My husband’s family always does the most delicious macaroni pie, a staple dish from Trinidad. It’s a delectably spicy mac and cheese that is baked and served casserole-style. It’s great because it can be assembled ahead of time if you are going over to someone else’s house.
Macaroni pie is like a blank slate that you can totally personalize. Traditionally, this pie uses full-on spaghetti, but I personally prefer penne because it’s easy to eat, and I love when the center fills with the creamy sauce. I also use a half of a habanero pepper here, but feel free to use as much or as little as your heat tolerance permits – other peppers would work well here too. I’ve seen macaroni pie made with a bunch of different cheeses; I’m partial to gruyere because it’s nutty and works really well with the spices. Again, you can use whatever grated cheese is your preference. The herbs really boost the flavor, and I love the crunchy breadcrumb topping. This is the perfect side dish, truly. Creamy, cheesy, crunchy with a bit of a kick. Enjoy!
Serves 6 to 8 (yields 1 3 quart baking dish)
olive oil or butter
1 yellow onion, finely diced
½ habanero pepper, seeded and ribbed, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 stick unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 quart milk
½ tsp powdered mustard
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp white pepper
½ tsp black pepper
2 tsps salt
2 ½ cups grated gruyère
1 lb pasta (I used penne but anything you like)
1 tbsp + 1 tsp fresh chives, finely chopped
1 ½ tsps fresh thyme, finely chopped
¾ cup breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Heat a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add olive oil, and, when hot, add onion and pepper. You want the onions to be pretty finely diced, so they will spread easily throughout the dish and cook quickly. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds or so until fragrant. Remove from heat and cool in a bowl.
In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour all at once and whisk vigorously to avoid lumps. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. You just want to remove the raw taste. Add milk and spices and continue to whisk to prevent lumps (remember to get the corners!). Once the mixture starts to bubble, reduce heat to low and cook for 8 to 10 minutes whisking often. You want this to simmer gently while it’s thickening. Remove from heat.
To the onion mixture in the bowl, add 2 cups of the grated cheese as well as the eggs. Add a ladle full of the béchamel (milk mixture) and stir. Continue to add ladlefuls until the egg mixture is up to temperature with the béchamel. Add everything back to the béchamel in the sauté pan and stir to combine thoroughly and insure cheese is completely melted.
Add pasta to boiling, heavily salted water and cook until it’s a bit underdone. It depends on what type of pasta you are using. I used penne and cooked it for about 9 or 10 minutes. It’s going to continue cooking in the oven. Drain pasta and add to the béchamel/cheese mixture. Add 1 tablespoon of the chopped chives and 1 teaspoon of the chopped thyme and combine thoroughly. Pour into a heavily greased 3 quart baking dish.
In a bowl, combine remaining herbs, ½ cup of cheese, and breadcrumbs. Sprinkle on top of macaroni and either dot with butter or drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 35 minutes until top is browned and bubbly.