Southern-style Macaroni Casserole

After bacon, the second food addiction we have around here is cheese.  It only beats mayonnaise out by a hair, but there you have it.  This deep-seated love of all things cheesy is probably what compelled me to figure this one out:  A Southern-style macaroni casserole with all kinds of cheese, and meat, and actually a few vegetables for a change.  Woo!

Macaroni Casserole

Macaroni Casserole

Shopping list (feeds about six if you have teenagers):

  • 1lb ground beef
  • Medium onion
  • Green pepper
  • A 28oz can of whole tomatoes
  • several cloves of garlic
  • 1lb elbow macaroni
  • lots and lots of cheese – Costco has a good Mexican blend and you’re going to need at least 4-1/2 cups.
  • salt
  • pepper
  • chili powder
  • butter
  • appetite

First of all, turn the oven on to 350F.  if your oven is like my cheap-ass model, it takes a while to heat up.

Then, brown a pound of ground beef in a big skillet (not that one, the bigger one.  Trust me on this).  While the meat is browning, start up a pot of water so you can cook some macaroni elbows – a pound will do nicely – and start chopping:  A medium onion, a bell pepper, and a couple of cloves of garlic.  Also, in a bowl take a 28oz can of whole tomatoes and gish them up really good so it’s chunky.  I suppose you can use diced tomatoes as well, but I like gishing them.  The texture is better, and as a bonus it freaks the kids out just a little.

Once the meat is browned, drain off the fat and then add in your the veggies.  Season with about 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt, 1-1/2 teaspoons of pepper, and about 3/4 tablespoon of chili powder.  Cook together for a few minutes, then add in the crushed tomatoes.  Mix it up good, and let that simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Now that the onions and peppers are kinda tender comes the magic part:  Take a stick of butter – yes, the whole stick – and chop it up and add it into the skillet.  And, add 3 cups of shredded cheese.  I like the Mexican blend stuff, but you could use cheddar.  Stir it around and get everything melted.

While the cheese is getting all nice and gooey, take a 9×13″ casserole and spray the heck out of it with canola oil.  You could use butter too, but we’re all on a diet these days, right?  Dump the elbow macaroni into the casserole, and add the cheesy, meaty goodness to that once it’s melted and stir everything up.  Smooth out the top and add more grated cheese – around 1-1/2 cups to fill the casserole to the top.  Cover with foil and slap it in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Remove the foil, and let bake for another 5-7 minutes.

When the cheese on top is nice and brown, take it out and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.  It’s hot and a bit juicy and you really don’t want it in your crotch straight out of the oven.  It singes a bit.  I like to serve in bowls.