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Definition of Macaroni and Cheese

What Makes Mac and Cheese Mac and Cheese?

Lately, we've been dishing on what constitutes some of the country's most popular — and hotly debated — dishes. We tackled the topic of chili, and now we're curious about another comfort food: mac and cheese.

The name clearly states two ingredients essential to the dish, and early renditions didn't add much more. In the 1824 cookbook titled The Virginia Housewife written by Thomas Jefferson's cousin Mary Randolph, the recipe called merely for macaroni, cheese, and butter. But these days, the process has evolved to make macaroni and cheese richer and creamier through the use of a flour and butter roux, cream, and gooey melting cheeses.

As a self-proclaimed mac and cheese addict, I believed this type of mac and cheese — popularized today by the likes of Ina Garten and America's Test Kitchen — to be the one true recipe. That is, until I tried Michelle Obama's cauliflower-puree-based version. And now I'm questioning my long-held definition. What do you think? Can pureed vegetables substitute for cream and still be considered a true mac and cheese? What pastas are acceptable? Are there any mix-ins that are off limits?

fuzzles fuzzles 5 years
 @amber512  Two forks up with Amber.  It has to be REAL mac and cheese, with a roux base, freshly shredded block cheese, and elbow pasta.  Classic being sharp cheddar.  Even better, a blend of cheeses.     That said, good mac and cheese is a wonderful blank slate for seasonal veggie offerings.         
Sara-Yoo Sara-Yoo 5 years
 @amber512 You're making me so hungry! :-)
jo_jo_ba jo_jo_ba 5 years
 @Susannah Chen  I would say yes - after all plenty of baked bac and cheese also contains egg and bacon
amber512 amber512 5 years
It has to be creamy.  No weird baked stuff on top.  No breadcrumbs.  Just gooey, cheesy, creamy goodness!
Susannah-Chen Susannah-Chen 5 years
Also, what about cacio e pepe? Is that mac and cheese?
Susannah-Chen Susannah-Chen 5 years
@jo_jo_ba Here's my question, then: So if pasta carbonara is made with macaroni, since it contains cheese, is it then considered mac and cheese?
jo_jo_ba jo_jo_ba 5 years
It's pretty simple: Does it contain MACARONI and not any other pasta, and does it have some sort of CHEESE in the dish. Anything else is nice, but not necessary to the definition, nor does it negate the status. Technically, elbow macaroni with butter and Parmesan can be called mac and cheese, as could an elaborate roux with goat, sheep and cow cheeses packed with zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, and 12 types of meat.
Susannah-Chen Susannah-Chen 5 years
I love the concept, but like you mentioned, I'm not sure Michelle Obama's cauliflower version can be called a mac and cheese without a roux.   The majority of my favorite mac and cheese dishes, interestingly enough, are all stovetop versions — not the baked kind with breadcrumbs on top.
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