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History Cookbook: Macaroni au Gratin

This recipe is in categories Edwardians and WW1, Main courses, Snacks
About this recipe
Healthiness : (41 votes)
Comments: The bechamel sauce has to be made in a pan over the hob. Please have an adult nearby. Please ensure the heat is turned down whilst adding the ingredients and stirring - great care is needed for the whole process.

The macaroni needs putting into a large pan of boiling water - take care not to splash as you pour it in.

The oven needs to be hot to brown the dish - again great care is needed.
Preparation Time: 20 - 30 mins
Cooking Time: 20 mins + time for cooking macaroni
Number of servings: 4-6
Serving suggestions: Sliced tomatoes and / or cucumbers can go well with it - but delicious eaten on its own - BEWARE - it is 'moreish'.
This is a vegetarian recipe

Cheese is a very old food - certainly made back in pre-history, once farming was common.

A sort of pasta seems to have been eaten by the Romans. However, it is commonly acknowledged that the Arabs introduced pasta to Sicily in the 9th Century. Sicily, at that time, was a centre where Arab and European cultures fused together. The Sicilian kings (of Norman descent) also ruled southern Italy, so it was not long before pasta appeared in Italy itself.

Pasta is made from Durum wheat - a particulary hard wheat, which, once introduced, grew well in Italy. The endosperm of the wheat, when ground up, produces semolina (used widely in Britain in early 20th century for a milk pudding).

Pasta is nutritious, dries well and is easily transported, which accounts for its rapid spread throughout many areas of the world.

The bechamel sauce (brought over from France) had become quite rich by Edwardian times. Instead of a plain white sauce, the milk was often infused with an onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, clove, mace and herbs before it was strained and stirred into the 'roux'. The addition of cream was also common.

Versions of macaroni cheese date back to Medieval times at least, it was made with layers of macaroni and cheese baked (no sauce) or sometimes stirred together in a saucepan. The richer version, mixing it with a bechamel sauce, was seen in late Victorian times and became a great favourite with the Edwardians who made it 'au gratin' with the addition of breadcrumbs and butter on top. The macaroni was sold in longer lengths than today.

In this version, we have flavoured the milk with mustard and nutmeg - also often used and much easier for the modern family, who do not have a cook and kitchen staff!
  • 150g macaroni
  • 150g grated cheese (strong cheddar is good - parmesan was also often mixed with it)
  • 6-8 tbsp breadcumbs (brown gives a better flavour)
  • butter
  • salt and pepper
  • splash of vegetable oil

Bechamel sauce:

  • 60g plain flour
  • 60g butter
  • 1/2 litre milk (approx)
  • 1/2 tsp dried or made up mustard (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg or mace (optional)
  • cream (optional)
  • Weighing scales
  • Measuring jug
  • Teaspoon
  • Large saucepan
  • Wooden spoon
  • Greaseproof paper
  • Oven dish
  • Grater
Making and cooking it
Always wash your hands before preparing food Always wash your hands before preparing food.

  1. Bring a large saucepan half filled with water to the boil *
  2. Add a splash of vegetable oil (this helps to stop the macaroni from sticking together)
  3. Add the macaroni carefully, stir and bring back to the boil
  4. Cook for the length of time that it tells you on the packet, stirring occasionally (do not overcook)
  5. Strain 
  6. * While waiting for the water to boil and macaroni to cook, turn the oven on to quite hot, grease a largish oven dish, grate the cheese and make the breadcrumbs 
  7. Start the bechamel sauce by melting the butter slowly in a saucepan (do not let it brown)
  8. Stir in the flour and cook gently for a couple of minutes, do not let it brown - this is a 'roux'. (If dried mustard is used, add it here)
  9. Gradually stir the milk into the roux a little at a time. If it seems to be going lumpy, take it off the heat and beat well with a wooden spoon
  10. Stop adding milk when the sauce is thickish (not solid!) and add the nutmeg, made up mustard and some cream if wished
  11. Put a layer of sauce in the bottom of the prepared dish, followed by a layer of cheese and then half the macaroni
  12. Season lightly
  13. Make another layer of sauce, cheese and macaroni and then finish with the rest of the sauce (and any cheese left over)
  14. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs all over the top
  15. Dot liberally with butter
  16. Put into the top of the oven and cook for approx 20 mins - until the top is turning brown

Macaroni au Gratin - print view  Macaroni au Gratin - print view

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Name: Mollie 11th November 2011
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