This is definitely survival/comfort food, and the recipe has sentimental value, as it’s the first main course that I learned to make as a kid. (It’s also WAY better for you than that Crap-in-a-Box!) I love it with a couple of boiled hotdog wieners and some Keene’s hot mustard (and a really cheap Italian red wine), while watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island or Green Acres, or some other mindless TV show from the 1960s. This meal was my Mom’s one concession to making something other than “meat and potatoes”. Truthfully, I never saw pizza or Chinese food while growing up in our house. Salads were rare too. Meat and potatoes. Meat and potatoes….with overcooked carrots….or green or yellow beans…or a can of peas. (yuck!) Oh, and let’s talk spices! Yeah, right! Salt and Pepper – that was it! Mom’s use of spices was relegated to baking pies and cookies – cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, etc. or, to special event cooking – cloves for the Easter ham, sage and onion for the Christmas turkey dressing, fresh mint from the garden for the new potatoes – that was about it. Basil, tarragon, oregano, (which she pronounced ora-GANo) and garlic were unheard of in our house. This recipe is pretty basic, but, believe me, it was a lot more basic before I added, to quote my Mom; “All those damned spices of yours!”
• one 28 oz. can of tomatoes (pre-chopped is easier)
• one 8 oz package of old cheddar cheese, grated (No grater? Buy the pre-shredded kind, of just cut up the block into small chunks – it’ll melt.)
• Macaroni (just eyeball it, I don’t really know how much! Well…OK… maybe 3 cups? maybe a third of a package?) You can use any type of pasta – penne, shells, even broken up spaghetti.
• Salt and pepper
• “All those damned spices of mine” – chopped garlic, basil, oregano, cayenne – to taste!
• Bread crumbs mixed with some Parmesan cheese (this is optional, you really don’t need it, although it makes a nice crunchy topping….mmmmmmmmmmmmm……… nice crunchy topping…….argahagahagh)
Start the water boiling for the macaroni in a good sized pot. Meanwhile, empty tomatoes and their juice into a large ovenproof casserole dish and smoosh them up if you didn’t buy the pre-chopped or crushed kind. Grate the entire package of cheese into this and add the salt and pepper and any of “those damned spices” that you want. (Careful with the cayenne pepper, it’s hot!)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
When water is boiling, salt it, (just a teaspoon) and then throw in the macaroni and follow the directions on the package for cooking. (Stir it around occasionally, so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot!) When done, (it takes maybe 7 minutes) drain, and add the macaroni to the tomato-cheese mixture and mix it around. Lightly sprinkle the breadcrumb/parmesan mixture over top if desired, and then toss in the oven and cook, uncovered, for about 40 minutes. Let it sit for 5 or 10 minutes (if you can wait that long!) before serving. Don’t forget – a couple of boiled (or nuked) hotdog wieners on the side! Prepare to be the hero of your dorm or Superbowl party!