Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dunbar Macaroni

Last week I went up to my parent's house and had dinner with my mom (dad was out of town for work and my husband was working late that night). She made one of my favorite childhood meals, Dunbar Macaroni. This is a recipe that is very popular in the tiny town that my mom grew up in. When someone passes away there family is loaded down with casseroles, pies, cookies, cold salads and large quantities of sweet tea and lemonade. The thinking is that they will not feel like cooking and the neighbors, friends, church members and co-workers who provide the food are simply hoping that they will have some comfort in their time of loss. Well, the funeral home where my mom grew up is Dunbar Funeral home. This recipe is very popular on the comfort food circuit, hence its name, Dunbar Macaroni.

This is a long and somewhat complicated recipe, but it makes enough to feed a few small armies and it freezes and reheats very well. If you are planning to freeze this, get several of the small square aluminum foil pans. Do not put the cheese and bread crumb topping on. Instead put a sheet of saran wrap on the top of the meat & macaroni mixture and then put the cheese and bread crumb mixture in a baggie and place on top of the saran wrap and then wrap the whole thing in aluminum foil. When it is time to cook the dish, remove the saran wrap and bag of cheese & bread crumbs and re-place the aluminum foil. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Then top with the bread crumbs and cheese and bake for another 15-20 minutes.

Here is the recipe, by my mother:

Dunbar Macaroni
1 lb. of lean ground beef or 2 cups of cut up leftover roast beef
8 oz. (2 cups) of dry small elbow macaroni
¾ stick of real butter
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
8 oz. tomato sauce
1-14 oz. can diced tomatoes in juice, undrained
Salt and pepper to your taste (I give several firm shakes of each.)
3 cups (12 oz.) shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
2 slices of bread grated or torn into bits by hand (Day old or coarse
textured bread, white or even wheat, is best. The blender is also
good for making the bread crumbs. You want about 2 cups, not
compressed, but loosely packed. You may need more slices to make
the 2 cups.)

Get out your largest sauce pan/frying pan with a lid. I use a 12” straight-sided frying pan. Brown the ground beef and drain. You just want to get the pink out - you can put the cover on the pan and not have to watch it so closely. Then you can do other things, like make the breadcrumbs or get out the other ingredients while the meat is cooking.

Then wipe out the pan with a paper towel and bring a quantity of salted water in the same pan to a boil with the lid on to make it boil faster, and add the macaroni. Cook about 6 – 8 minutes, but don’t get it too soft. Drain.

Wipe out the pan and brown the butter till it is golden, but not dark brown. Be careful. If you burn it, start over. This is what gives the dish its distinctive flavor. Add the Worcestershire sauce to the butter in the frying pan and let it sizzle.

Then add the tomato products and heat. Now combine everything except the cheese and breadcrumbs in the frying pan and blend together.

Heavily Pam a 9 x 13” Pyrex dish. Quickly stir in 2 cups of the cheese into the macaroni and meat mixture. Arrange all that evenly in the dish. Mix the breadcrumbs and the last 1-cup (4 oz.) of cheese together and evenly top the other ingredients with them. Cook 15 – 20 minutes at 425 in the oven, or till the topping is nicely golden brown. Everything in the dish is already cooked and warm so you’re just browning the crumbs on top, not cooking the dish.

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