Tayari Jones’ traditional southern macaroni and cheese

Tayari Jones’ The Untelling is a book I’m always giving to people. I’ve pressed it on my in-laws, hair stylist, friends bookish and not, and now there’s a growing band of us waiting for her next novel.

Although I’ve met Jones only once, when we read together back in 2005, I feel like she’s an old friend — mostly because of her blog. Nowadays a handful of literary novelists are blogging, and more than a few bloggers have become novelists, but when Jones set up her site nearly three years ago, there was a pervasive notion in The Literary World that serious writers wouldn’t waste their time on that kind of frivolity. (Less self-consciously artistic writers like William Gibson, I should note, gravitated to — and sometimes away from — the form much earlier.) Below she contributes a recipe that bespeaks her Georgia roots.

Macaroni and cheese is sort of a cultural thumbprint. How you make it shows exactly who you are and where you are from.

This is a recipe for southern macaroni and cheese, which means it is baked. I also want to say that it is a traditionally African-American version, in as it does not contain breadcrumbs. I am hesitant about the last part because I am sure that I will get an email from some black person who detests stereotypes or generalizations of any kind.

So, for the sake of keeping the holiday peace, I am going to say that it is a southern mac and cheese. And it is really really delicious. I promise.

10 oz of elbow macaroni
6 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
6 oz mild cheddar, grated
1 stick of butter
4 eggs
1 cup whole milk *
½ cup evaporated milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
pinch of paprika
½ small onion diced (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Whip eggs in small bowl and put aside. Mix cheeses in small bowl and put aside.

Boil pasta in LARGE pot and drain off most of the water. While pasta in still steaming, stir in the butter and about ¾ of the cheese. Stir until everything is all melty. Add salt, pepper, and paprika. (This is your last opportunity to taste, so please do.) Next add eggs, and all milk. You can add the onion now, if you like. The whole concoction should be really soupy. Stir, stir and stir some more.

Pour mixture into a casserole dish and bake for about 30 minutes. It will rise like soufflé, so make sure that your dish is big enough. Carefully open the oven and slide the rack out halfway so you can sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Continue to bake about another ten minutes until the cheese is bubbly. Take it out of the oven and let it sit about 10-15 minutes while it sets.

* Dieters can substitute skim or 2% milk and the butter can be cut down by half. You might be able to scale back the cheese a little, but just use less cheese, not a 2% or fat free.


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