While reading over one of last week’s blogs, I noticed that I mentioned food and how I was preparing some of my mom’s old recipes. It brought to mind one dish in particular that she had become famous for. Wherever we lived, neighbors adored it and I can recall countless evenings when my mom would bake a pan and have me drop it off to the appreciative folks next door. The irony of the dish, is that it was born out of desperation.
Many moons ago when money was lean and we were quite frankly, a very poor family, my mom had her hands full coming up with inexpensive yet nutritious and filling meals to put on the table.
One evening, at the end of a particularly bad week, mom began to wonder what she could possibly feed her family for dinner. The next day was payday and until then, she hadn’t a dime to her name.
In desperation, she had already gone through every pocket in every garment that hung in her closets and stuck her fingers into every cushion in the house, hoping to find enough lost change to help her penniless plight. When her search produced no results, she knew she was going to have to become truly resourceful with whatever was still lurking in her fridge and pantry. However when she opened the cabinets, much like Old Mother Hubbard, the cupboard was bare. She was indeed reduced to only the most basic of items. The only things staring back at her from the shelves were salt, pepper, ketchup, a box of pasta, sugar, flour, oil, cider vinegar and a small can of Hunt’s sauce.
The fridge produced little more, offering only mustard, butter, milk, a wedge of cheddar cheese and a half a jar of mayonnaise.
Well this was definitely going to be a meatless meal but how was she going to make it a satisfying one? Mom decided on five ingredients that she believed would come together into a substantial pasta dish and set out to make, what became (and is to this day) a family favorite! In our house it was simply called “baked mac” and it is a wonderful, quick, inexpensive and easy to prepare pasta that can be enjoyed year-round. The taste can best be described as “mac & cheese meets a la vodka,” with its zesty combination of tomato and dairy flavors.
During the summer months it teams up perfectly with a crisp salad and an ice-cold beer. During the winter, it’s a hearty and rewarding refuge from the cold with a glass of red wine and a dessert of warm apple pie. In later years, mom even prepared the now famous Baked Mac as a side dish alongside meatloaf (my personal favorite) or baked ham.
It turns out that, necessity really is the mother of invention.
And now here on these pages, for the first time in print:
Trudy’s Famous “Baked Mac!”
1- 16oz. box of Rigatoni Pasta
1- Stick of salted butter (no substitutions)
1- 10 oz. bar of Kraft, Cracker Barrel “extra sharp” cheddar cheese.
1- 8 oz. can Hunts tomato sauce
8 oz. milk (enough to fill the tomato sauce can)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cook the rigatoni according to package directions, remembering to leave the pasta al dente, as it will continue cooking in the sauce as it bakes in the oven.
While pasta cooks, grate or thinly slice the cheddar cheese and set aside.
Cut butter into small pieces and sprinkle evenly into the bottom of a 9” X 13” baking pan.
Drain pasta and add it to the pan with the butter. Stir to evenly coat the pasta with the butter.
Evenly pour the can of tomato sauce over the pasta.
Pour milk into the now empty tomato sauce can to fill the can almost to the top and add it to the pasta and stir to mix.
Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and gently toss to incorporate. Bake for 10 -15 minutes
Stir the pasta once again to be sure it mixes well with the cheese sauce (mixture may look to have separated but don’t worry, its normal at this stage) and continue baking another 5 minutes.
Yields: 4 servings as a meal and 6-8 as a side dish.
Serve straight from the oven with your favorite salad and I can almost guarantee that this delicious baked pasta will become a favorite at your house too.
Until next time,