Our family’s ultimate side dish, a baked mac & cheese casserole, insanely simple but insanely satisfying, too. My Grandmama Wylie taught the recipe to Mama when she and Daddy got married back in 1963, and Mama taught it to me when I was about eight years old. My sister, Sarah, has made refinements, and I put more cheese in than anybody else in the history of the recipe, endearing me for all time to Sarah’s daughter, my gorgeous niece, Katie. And I know all my aunts and cousins have their own versions—I would happily pile my plate with any of them. We make this at all occasions of import, especially holidays. (Once we establish who’s doing the turkey at Thanksgiving, the next order of business is the macaroni pie.) I’ve got one in the oven right now because it’s Labor Day and because this would have been Mama’s 76th birthday. We’re eating takeout chicken and birthday sheet cake and macaroni pie and missing her very, very much.
1.5 pounds of macaroni, cooked al dente
1.5 pounds of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1.5 cups of milk (whole is best, but 2 percent works just fine)
Half a teaspoon of salt
Half a teaspoon of black pepper
A quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper
About three tablespoons of butter, cut into eight small pats
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Spray a big casserole dish with cooking spray. Put in a layer of cooked macaroni. Cover with a thick layer of cheese. Put in another layer of macaroni, then another layer of cheese.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Pour it over the macaroni and cheese as evenly as possible. Scatter the dabs of butter over the top. (I do mine like rolling two fives on a set of dice.)
Bake for 30-45 minutes until it’s cooked through and starting to brown on top. Let it stand for about five minutes to set, warding off with a wooden spoon any men or children who have smelled it from the living room and want to eat it NOW.
This also makes pretty good leftovers out of fridge – just cut off a brick and heat it in the microwave.