Sunday, January 15, 2012

Horn and Hardart's Baked Macaroni and Cheese

New York Cookbook by Molly O’Neill is one of those cookbooks you can just pick up and read any time.  Chock full of historical and anecdotal information:
notes on New York’s culinary firsts,
descriptions of its seafood markets and window displays,
examples of different barbecue traditions,
a dictionary of “deli speak”,
lists of street fairs and neighborhood festivals
and explanations of what makes New York cuisine so New York,
it is a cookbook, travel guide and social history.  I’ve owned a copy since 1993.

New York Cookbook includes hundreds of recipes from all over the city.  Some are courtesy of professional chefs, renowned and not-so-well-known, and cosmopolitan, gastronomic institutions, like the “21” Club, Zabar’s, Le Cirque, Serendipity, The Four Seasons, Lord and Taylor and The Algonquin.  Plus there are recipes from folks you know… just not as cooks!...  Bill Blass’ Meatloaf, Bianca Jagger’s Salmon a la Basilique, Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies, Ed Bradley’s Shrimp Creole, Oscar de la Renta’s Pumpkin and Crab Soup and Robert Motherwell’s Brandade de Morue.

But most of the recipes have been contributed by folks just like you and me.  And they draw on the different immigrant, religious and cultural customs that make up New York and the American experience.
Horn and Hardart’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese is one of my favorites and comes directly from the celebrated Automat.  This recipe is incredibly easy and creates a beautifully creamy Mac and Cheese.  It reads as follows:

4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
Dash of freshly ground white pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
½ pound elbow macaroni, fully cooked and drained
½ cup canned tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 2-quart baking dish.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat.  Whisk in the flour, then add the milk, salt and both peppers.  Stir almost constantly until the mixture thickens and is smooth, 8 to 10 minutes.  Add the cheese and cook, stirring until it melts.  Remove from the heat.

In a mixing bowl, combine the macaroni and the sauce.  Stir in the tomatoes and sugar.  Transfer the macaroni mixture to the greased baking dish.  Bake until the surface browns, 30 to 40 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6
Stirring the milk and butter sauce before I add the shredded cheese.
So, here’s the deal… I don’t add the tomatoes.  I prefer my vegetables on the side.  And because I don’t add the tomatoes, I don’t add the sugar.  And I don’t need a separate bowl to mix the sauce and the pasta.  So, once I’ve drained the pasta, I just mix it right into the pot of melted cheese sauce.
Usually I’ll use elbow or medium shell noodles.  This time I used Barilla’s Piccolini Mini Rotelles.  Just because I thought they looked cute.  Horn and Hardart’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese is a great winter lunch and keeps well if you want to make it ahead and reheat portions in the oven or microwave.

I never visited a Horn and Hardart Automat, except for the one on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.  Joe Horn and Frank Hardart opened the first American Automat in 1902, in Philadelphia, not New York.  But the business eventually grew to 85 restaurants between the two cities.
Horn and Hardart coaster in the New York Historical Society's collection
Automats were hugely popular during the first half of the 20th century.  They were “waiterless” cafeterias that served home-style diner food out of huge vending machines, essentially “fast food” before burgers and fries and drive-thrus.  In addition to Macaroni and Cheese, Horn and Hardart was famous for their chicken potpie, Salisbury steak, fruit and cream pies, and of course, puddings.  The New York Cookbook includes a recipe for Horn and Hardart’s Baked Beans as well.

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