Nostalgia: Horn & Hardart Macaroni & Cheese
I am not old enough to remember the Horn & Hardart Automats in NYC, which closed in the 1960's, but I always remember my dad talking about how he used to have lunch there.
Anyone from NYC or Philadelphia (older than 60) would probably remember these cafeteria style places that coined the phrase "Less Work for Mother".
They fell out of fashion when waitress style luncheonettes became more popular in the early 1950's.
Automats were cafeteria style restaurants with home style cooking that started the "vending machine" meal, offering food behind glass that could be purchased by putting a few coins in the slot and out came a hot or cold meal. Sit down in a big place and eat. My dad said the food was actually delicious!
Comfort foods, like rice pudding, mac 'n cheese, meatloaf and hearty soups were among his favorites, along with their famous New Orleans coffee.
I've always heard about their famous baked beans and macaroni and cheese from New Yorkers who are nostalgic and very proud of their food culture (pastrami sandwiches, bagels, Italian food, etc. Don't mess with us when it comes to food).
I found this recipe on Arthur Schwartz's website, a NYC radio personality and cookbook author. It can also be found in his cookbook Arthur Schwartz's NYC FOOD an Opinionated History & More than 100 Legendary Recipes (now that's a mouthful!).
This is old school all the way.
No Gruyere, no Blue cheese, no panko breadcrumbs or fancy dancy ingredients. It's simple mac and cheese made with real cheddar, milk, and cayenne. The thing that interested me was the addition of the canned crushed tomatoes. It made a pink color sauce, and I thought it sounded good.
I was right! This was our favorite macaroni & cheese recipe to date.
I added some fresh thyme to the recipe for color, and I added some extra tomatoes for the top, so it had more of an attractive look (as if macaroni & cheese wasn't attractive enough!).
I liked the simplicity of this recipe and that it took very little time to make.
I also liked that I didn't have to buy 4 different cheeses for 30 bucks, which seems to be the trend these days w/ gourmet mac 'n cheese recipes. This recipe also has a lot less fat than other mac and cheese recipes (unless you eat 3 portions, like I did!). It's a win win situation!
I make mac 'n cheese only once a year, so here is my annual contribution.
Horn & Hardart Macaroni & Cheese (adapted from The Food Maven):
8 oz. small elbow macaroni (half a box)
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (*I added a bit more)
1 1/2 cup whole milk
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup of diced canned tomatoes
1 1/2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 cups packed Cheddar cheese, grated (*I used Trader Joe's Special Reserve white cheddar and grated it myself)
salt and pepper to taste
*I recommend adding about a tablespoon of fresh thyme
Start cooking your pasta, about 7 minutes, as per package directions.
Make the sauce in the time that the pasta is cooking on the stove.
In a deep skillet, heat the butter on low heat with the 2 tbsp of flour. Whisk about a minute until a paste is formed.
Right away, add the milk and cream to the paste and raise the heat, whisking all the while, until the sauce comes to a boil and gets nice and thick. You want a slow boil while whisking, or your milk will burn. This should take about 5 minutes total.
After the white sauce is a nice thick consistency, remove it from the heat and pour in your cup of packed cheddar cheese, and stir until melted.
Add the 1/4 cup of tomatoes (I saved some whole pieces for the top of the casserole), sugar, cayenne, salt and pepper and thyme (if using).
Drain your elbows (the macaroni, not your arms) and add them to the cheese mixture in the skillet and mix together. Yum.
Pour this yumbly mixture into a shallow or 8" x 8" greased glass casserole. I added some pieces of the chopped tomato and thyme sprigs for decoration.
Bake in a 400F oven for 25-30 minutes until edges start to brown.
Let rest a few minutes before serving. Best served right away.
This is worth getting nostalgic over.