Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Macaroni: with cheese?

Today, March 6th …

The American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne spent the years from 1853-1857 as United States consul in Liverpool, England. Naturally, he kept notes of his impressions of the people and the country, and on this day he ate aboard the Princeton.

These daily lunches on shipboard might answer very well the purposes of a dinner; being in fact, noonday dinners, with soup, roast mutton, mutton chops, and macaroni pudding – brandy port and sherry wines….There is a satisfaction in seeing Englishmen eat and drink, they do it so heartily, and on the whole, so wisely, - trusting so entirely that there is no harm in good beef and mutton, and a reasonable quantity of good liquor; and so these three hale old men, who had acted on this wholesome faith so long, were proofs that it is well on earth to live like earthly creatures.

‘Macaroni’ is a problem word for the OED, which finds itself unable to confidently explain its origin. It may come from the Latin for a sort of dumpling, but the Romans may have gotten it from the Greek word for barley-broth, which seems a bit convoluted. In the second half of the seventeenth century the word came to refer to a particularly foolish type of young man who affected the latest fashions and fads, especially if they were from ‘the Continent’. Co-incidentally the second half of the seventeenth century was also when macaroni, the dish, started to appear fairly regularly in cookbooks.

Macaroni did not always have its current tubular form. In early recipes it seems to be more like gnocchi, but there is an intriguing recipe in the first known English cookbook, the Form of Cury (about 1390) for a dish called ‘macrows’, which sounds similar enough to be intiguing. Macrows were made with thin sheets of dough cut into pieces, which were boiled and then served with butter and cheese – perhaps justifying it as an early version of mac n’ cheese.

Take and make a thynne foyle of dowh. and kerve it on peces, and cast hem on boillyng water & seeþ it wele. take chese and grate it and butter cast bynethen and above as losyns. and serue forth.

By 1769 when Elizabeth Raffald published her Experienced English Housekeeper the dish was pretty well what we would recognise today.

To dress Macaroni with Parmesan Cheese.
Boil four ounces of macaroni till it be quite tender and lay it on a sieve to drain. Then put it in a tossing pan with about a gill of good cream, a lump of butter rolled in flour, boil it five minutes. Pour it on a plate, lay all over it parmesan cheese toasted, send it to table on a water plate for it soon gets cold.

But of course, Nathaniel Hawthorne had Macaroni Pudding, not Macaroni Cheese. Here is a recipe for pudding from Mrs. Beeton, who follows it with a short description for the edification of her readers.

Sweet Macaroni Pudding.
Ingredients: 2- ½ oz. of macaroni, 2 pints of milk, the rind of ½ lemon, 3 eggs, sugar and grated nutmeg to taste, 2 tablespoonfuls of brandy.
Mode: -Put the macaroni, with a pint of the milk, into a saucepan with the lemon-peel, and let it simmer gently until the macaroni is tender; then put it into a pie-dish without the peel; mix the other pint of milk with the eggs; stir these well together, adding the sugar and brandy, and pour the mixture over the macaroni. Grate a little nutmeg over the top, and bake in a moderate oven for 1/2 hour. To make this pudding look nice, a paste should be laid round the edges of the dish, and, for variety, a layer of preserve or marmalade may be placed on the macaroni: in this case omit the brandy.

MACARONI is composed of wheaten flour, flavoured with other articles, and worked up with water into a paste, to which, by a peculiar process, a tubular or pipe form is given, in order that it may cook more readily in hot water. That of smaller diameter than macaroni (which is about the thickness of a goose-quill) is called vermicelli; and when smaller still, fidelini. The finest is made from the flour of the hard-grained Black-Sea wheat. Macaroni is the principal article of food in many parts of Italy, particularly Naples, where the best is manufactured, and from whence, also, it is exported in considerable quantities. In this country, macaroni and vermicelli are frequently used in soups.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A new potato.

A Previous Story for this Day …

Dried strawberries were the topic of the day.

Quotation for the Day …

Fettucini alfredo is macaroni and cheese for adults. Mitch Hedberg.

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