Saturday, 14 January 2012

My Aunt Marguerite's Macaroni

This recipe is a bit legendary in my mother's family. It was supposed to be my aunt Marguerite's special recipe, but I never met said aunt, and I believe she might have been dead long before my mother learned to cook it herself, so our exact relations to this mystical woman are fairly nebulous.

I have a vivid imagination, so I imagine she must have been part of the Italian family that wound up here (in which case, she would have been zia Magherita), far from home and from the food she knew, so she probably improvised with whatever ingredients she could get her hands on. She realized our tomatoes were not half as tasty as the ones she used to enjoy back home, and as she was probably broke, she got the cheapest tomato sauce she could find, the cheapest meat available and drowned the whole thing in lots of fresh black pepper. And her recipe makes a ton of pasta because she probably wanted to feed as many family members as she could all from one pot.

Maybe I am completely wrong about her story, but her macaroni was ever the crowd pleaser, so we keep making it and eating it! Her legacy will never fade away, thanks to this easy and cheap meal!

4 cups dry tubular pasta (macaroni or tortiglioni are my faves)
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon savory
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon chili flakes (optional)
3 cans tomato soup
1 pound lean ground beef
Sea salt and ground black pepper

Boil a large pot of salted water. When boiling, add the pasta and cook according to package instruction. Preheat a large pan over medium-high heat. Fry the garlic and onion in the oil until soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the spices and mix well. Crumble the ground beef in the pan and fry with the onion until the meat is browned. Pour the tomato soup in the pan, and mix well with the meat and the onion. Check your pasta: when they are still a little bit firm, drain them and transfer to the pan of sauce. Blend well so that the noodles are well coated in sauce. Lower the heat, cover and let simmer for 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adjust if necessary and serve.

I love grating fresh mozzarella on top of my pasta and let it melt and get all gooey, but you can also turn easily turn this recipe into a baked pasta casserole. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. After you have mixed your pasta in the sauce, take it off the heat and generously sprinkle it with freshly grated mozzarella and place it in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until the cheese has melted. Broil the dish for 2 minutes to make the cheese golden-brown, remove from the oven and serve.

For some reason, despite the fact that this is one of the easiest, cheapest-to-make recipes I know, it's a universal hit. Kids love it, grown-ups love it, cats love it. Maybe because it's got that Chef Boyardee-type of meaty pasta appeal (except that you actually WANT to eat it because it isn't made of unidentified canned ingredients). Maybe because everybody thinks it tastes just like something their mom used to make. Or maybe just because everybody secretly wishes they'd had an aunt Marguerite...

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