Mere Macaroni

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Virgil Evetts

For one reason or another- but mostly because of the criminally high prices of dairy in recent years, good old macaroni-cheese- that most kiwi-fied of dishes had completely dropped off my cooking radar. In fact I’d pretty much forgotten it existed, when out of the blue just the other day, it popped into my head. Then nothing else would do for dinner.

I think macaroni is probably one of those dishes that everyone had as a child but everyone had a slightly different version. I’m coming to really appreciate these family specific food traditions. We may not have a true food culture in our infant nation but we do have a few established classics- macaroni-cheese, spag- bol (quite distinct from, but just as noble a dish as it ancestor- ragu alla Bolognese), curried a sausage etc.

As ubiquitous as these dishes may be to our kitsch kitchen vernacular, every cook makes them with a unique familial flourish. And yes I know, that in the past I’ve been guilty of a degree of snobbery about such cooking- ok quite lot of snobbery actually ( e.g.’ provincial, pedestrian, pap…’), but I’m starting to see these as the classic and very legitimate examples of real New Zealand cooking- circa late 20th century that they are. They are spin-offs from various political ups and downs of their time and place- post WW2 Italian emigration to Australia and (to a much lesser degree) New Zealand, the last gasp of colonial India…

All fascinating stuff, and worth a thesis or two no doubt, but for now- back to my macaroni. Naturally I make macaroni as I was taught to do, which I’m willing to bet is a little different to how you were taught. Not better, nor worse just different. Such is the nature of these local treasures.


Evetts Family Macaroni Cheese

In a little oil sauté 1 finely chopped onion, 4 or 5 cloves of garlic (crushed) and a few sprigs of thyme (de-stemmed) until lightly browned. Set aside. Make a béchamel with a couple of tablespoons of butter, about the same of flour and 1 ½ cups of warm milk. Whisk until thick. Add a cup or 2 of grated tasty cheddar, ½ cup white wine, a couple of slices of roughly torn free-range ham and the onion/garlic/thyme mixture. Stir until thick and smooth. Season to taste. Fold in a packet of cooked macaroni, ladle into a baking dish and grill until golden and crispy on top.Serve with a crisp green salad and a generous glass or two of something dry and white.


Despite my earlier fiscal misgivings, this dish is quite economical to make and a pretty straight forward week-night endeavour.

This is the sort of cooking to pass on to your children. My recipe heirlooms are far more precious to me than any objet d’art, but I guess I’m weird like that.



So- how do you make your macaroni and what are your family food heirlooms?

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17 thoughts on “Mere Macaroni

  1. One of the best macaroni cheese dishes I ever ate was made by an American friend who included something like cottage cheese in it. I’m going to ask her for the recipe. But I suspect it was a family secret. :)
    A friend reminded me this week of that old student favourite: macaroni without cheese.

  2. Recently my daughter asked me how did I make the lovely Macaroni pudding She and I grew up with. Well now I have to find the recipe, it is made with milk and baked in the oven slowly.

  3. Looks like macaroni cheese is on the menu tomorrow. Make an easy lasagne with a batch of bolognaise sauce and macaroni cheese. Layer it once or twice with m ch on top. Grated cheese and just needs heated through. Cuts nicely when refrigerated and has all the components of lasagne.

  4. PS: I like my macaroni cheese completely unadulterated, though I might eat it with ham or bacon, I’d never add it to the dish itself.

  5. Our family favourite certainly comes into its own during hard times.

    Layer thinly sliced potatoes on the bottom of an ovenproof dish.

    Dry fry mince and remove any fat, toss in a finely chopped onion, garlic, tin of tomatoes (pureed), basil, a couple of oxo cubes and seasoning.

    You may like to add your favourite herb or spice rather than basil, it’s a very versatile dish.

    Sometimes I add mushrooms, sliced courgette etc., to the meat mixture immediately before pouring it over the potatoes. Add another layer of spuds.

    Make a white sauce, grate in a little cheese and plenty of black pepper. When sauce is thickened, allow to cool a few minutes then beat in an egg. (optional). This make the topping light and fluffy when baked.

    Pour this over the top layer of potatoes, cover and bake at 180º until potatoes are cooked through.

    Because cheese is so expensive nowadays, you can leave this out of the sauce; or if you’r rich, sprinkle more on top just before putting in the oven. :-)

    A low-fat white sauce can be made with cornflour rather than a roux.

    This is generally served with a side salad in our house.

    It doesn’t have a name, so give it your own :-)

  6. Its quite amazing how different everyones is. Mine has sauteed onions and garlic, ham or bacon, chopped tomatoes and peas in a cheesy sauce (cheddar & parmesan) and I always use spiral pasta. My partner calls is pasta and cheese as he doesn’t think it can be called macaroni when I don’t use macaroni. I too makes tonnes and freeze for lunches. And I hate macaroni cheese that doesn’t have tomatoes in it, i need them to cut through the richness. Mum always put tomatoes in hers too.

  7. I make my macaroni cheese in bulk and freeze it in lunch-size portions. It’s very simple. Chopped onion and bacon fried until soft, add a heap of chopped mushrooms and fry a bit more. Sprinkle over some flour and a couple of teaspoons of dry mustard and cook off the raw taste while stirring then add enough cold milk and cream to make a thick, plentiful sauce. The macaroni is cooking while I’m doing this. Drain the macaroni and add to the sauce. Sometimes I’ll bake it but I can’t really see the point if I’m going to freeze it, so it just goes straight into the freezer containers, is cooled and frozen. I usually have the last bit for lunch that day.

  8. I’ve got to say that macaroni and cheese is one of my absolute favourites!! Although, as Virgil said, the price of dairy these day’s inhibit’s me making it on a regular basis. When I do a macaroni cheese I make enough to feed an army or enough to feed my flatties and I for a couple of days.
    Mine is based on the Edmonds recipe and has wholegrain mustard thrown in to taste at the end aswell as either bacon or chorizo instead of ham….the chorizo one is my FAVE!!! Also when I’m feeling like a very lazy dinner I’ll throw in any vegies from the fridge that are starting to turn, it makes for a great one-pot meal!

  9. The best macaroni cheese I have ever tasted had chopped anchovies, mustard and was finished off with truffle oil. The cheese was a mixture of tasty cheddar, parmesan and good mozzarella…
    My children like it very plain with chopped ham through it and a bread crumb crust on top.

  10. Our Macaroni Cheese was simple, a white sauce with cheese added, mix in the cooked macaroni, and then put in an oven dish with more cheese on top, maybe bacon or sliced tomato, and maybe some breadcrumbs. I did enjoy it as a child but don’t think I have quite mastered it myself.

    Last year in the US we had a heated discussion over whether it is Macaroni Cheese or Mac N Cheese. My brother in law’s version of Mac N Cheese involved cream and it was delicious and decadent!

    Our family food heirlooms are mostly baking I think – pikelets and a particular chocolate cake.

  11. I agree UnterGourmand- I only use red onion in my cooking. Much sweeter and more fragrant than either white or brown. They don’t half make your eyes run though!

  12. It’s the red onion my great aunty uses in the cheese sauce, which just adds a little lightness, some fragrant overtone, which so pleases me when I find it (rarely) in some other kitchen.

  13. That special taste is from the oak and the unique madre aceto- vinegar mother- that has devaloped in your mothers barrel.
    Some balsamico madres are centuries old and are so valuable they kept in vaults.

  14. Great idea! Worth buying my own wine barrel to start my NZ-branch of the Mauro family vinegar. Now to get her to send me some before she runs out. It is a red wine vinegar, however, it has a special flavour that I’ve never found in any other red wine vinegar.

    In Canada, due to the strange tax laws on alcohol, my mother ‘makes her own wine’… kinda. There’s a place where you order it to be made for you and a few weeks later, you go and bottle it and for tax purposes, it’s ‘own made wine’, no tax other than normal sales tax, and is super-cheap.

    But very fresh. They call it ‘Tuesday wine’ because they bottle it on Tuesday and start drinking it on Thursday. Yes, I come from a family of lushes.

    However, it is a good source of wine for vinegar-making. In NZ, I will have to put the effort in to make my own, as we strangely never have dregs either (although I have built up an impressive bank of empty wine bottles for when I get around to home brewing).

  15. All you need is a little bottle of that live vinegar to start your own culture.
    I used to make my own vinegar- very easy but it relies on one having plenty of left-over wine dregs. That never seems to happen in my house.

  16. I gave up making macaroni cheese since my children decided they prefer the horrible boxed-stuff to my home-made variety! However, I didn’t used to throw in all that extra yummy stuff that you do Virgil, so I might give it another go tonight as we have bacon in the fridge (yes, free range and home grown to boot) that needs using up.

    My personal family signature dish is meatballs with spaghetti, which is great if you have lots of people over for dinner.

    I am three quarters Italian by blood, and there is a traditional (secret) family spaghetti sauce on my birth mother’s side, but she puts both ground beef and bits of chicken in it, and she never quite manages to gets all the little chicken bones and gristle out before serving, so I’ve gone off it a little.

    She also has the family’s wine barrel of ‘mother vinegar’ that I have secretly been coveting over the years (though she is in Canada so it would be difficult to get my hands on when she’s not looking). Sadly her cousin is apparently going to uplift it soon so I won’t ever inherit it.