Ryan’s Macaroni and Cheese

So, I got this message from a friend last week.

“Hello!. How’ve you been, hood mother? [side note–long story on that nickname] ok, so I know you’re an amazing cook because I’ve seen your posts and I was wondering if you had any recipes for southern oven baked Mac n Cheese. I somehow got assigned this task for thanksgiving. I hope you can help me out! thanks!”

Well, I hate cheese (I know, what kind of Italian hates cheese), so I don’t have a special recipe for mac and cheese. But Ryan is a big fan of cheese, and brags far and wide about his mac n cheese.   He has a special family recipe, so I asked write it up for us. While I was at work, he made a batch, took pictures, and wrote the following post!  I had no idea he planned on doing any of these things.  Without further ado, here’s Ryan.
Ingredients
Macaroni — 1 lb box
Sharp Cheddar — 1 lb brick
Saltines — 5-6 crackers
Nonfat Milk — approximately 1/2 cup
Salt
Pepper

Optional — Ham, other cheese, cream instead of milk

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Thoughts — I’m using whole wheat pasta, but white works (actually it’s better, but don’t tell Christina that). Boring store cheddar is fine, we’re not doing fine dining here, but if you want to class up the joint, throw in some parmesan, gruyere, or other hard melting cheese. I’ve used ham here, because we had some and I think its good that way, but the dish is equally excellent without it.

I am aware that this is the only Mac and Cheese recipe in the universe that doesn’t start with a cheese sauce. Two thoughts on that: first, it’s my childhood we’re talking about here. This is my dad’s recipe, not to mention my grandmother’s–it’s clearly the best. Also, I do genuinely like this more than sauce based dishes — more texture, more flavor, more cheesiness.

Anyways, chop the cheddar into little bricks.

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Boil the pasta

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Our ham was looking a little sad, so I decided to spruce it up by browning it briefly.

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Browned, then chopped into small chunks.

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The assembled ammunition. I only ended up doing about 3/4 of the cheese brick, and that was plenty.

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Assembly as follows.

Layer of pasta.

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Layer of cheese
Layer of ham
Sprinkle with salt/pepper. Go light on the salt, the ham and cheese do most of the work for you. You will never hear me say that again.

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Then repeat. Layer of pasta

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Layer of ham
Salt/pepper
Layer of pasta

At this point I was out of room and ham, so this became the last layer.

Half the remaining cheese

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Crush the saltines and sprinkle over the top, followed by the remaining cheese and a final sprinkle of salt/pepper.

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A side view.

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The next step is important, if you skip the milk (or cream) it comes out dry and sad, adding the milk to the bottom is what lets you keep it moist, and approximates the cheese sauce used in most recipes. Pour just enough milk to coat the bottom through one corner.

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Then, in the oven, uncovered, 45-50 minutes.

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It should look about like this.

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The milk should have mostly evaporated/solidified. It should NOT be runny on the bottom.

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Plated out.

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Cross section.

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