And they eat Babies too!

Monday 15/11/2004

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Diary and Notes

This is a toned down version of my original rant. I had originally intended to write something humerous about how cultures tend to 'borrow' things from others and make them their own. What I did however was launch (unintentionally) into a vicious tirade against American imperialism. Oh well, It's a bit like Bill Shankley might have said: "Food isn't a matter of life and death, it's much more serious than that." So with a view to making amends I will devote one week, later in the year, to fine American cuisine and throughout that week will extol the virtues of their diverse and wonderful culture. Here is a toned down version of the previous demagoguery. (I still don't like your Cheddar cheese though).

I wanted to make that famous Italian dish, macaroni cheese for dinner today. I thought it would go well with some fresh bread and a little white wine, something light and tasty. So, in order to write a humurous line or two about Italians having babies who are always born with their elbows bent or similar, I went to the good old World-Wide-Web and what do I find? About ten-thousand websites, all American, claiming that macaroni cheese is an American invention.

Now I've just e-mailed my friend Marcello to clear up this point who says: Hi Jon, yes you are right: it is also eaten in Italy with the exception that the real name is "maccheroni". There are different sauces that go with it and probably if the cheese sauce is too greasy and vulgar it is definitely an American dish. In Italy in general we prefer lighter sauces and probably macaroni cheese would be "maccheroni con besciamella" or something like it.

Which, if I may paraphrase Marcello means this: The Italians invented macaroni cheese and it is a light dish made with love and care, whereas the Americans make a sad greasy imitation which no Italian would serve his dog. Armed with this information and the name of macaroni cheese in Italian I typed maccheroni con besciamella into google and there were over 3000 sites devoted to Italian macaroni cheese, all in Italian and from Italy, for instance see: Maccheroni al forno or Pasticcio di maccheroni al gratin or Maccheroni al forno con cavolfiore or any of the other thousands, or phone up your Italian workmates and ask them for a recipe that has been handed down from grandmother to mother for three hundred years.

I also found a very well researched site, which reads like a peer reviewed journal, has references to historic texts and is devoted to the history of mediterranean cooking. There are about ten pages devoted to the history of macaroni. The final line being: By the late eighteenth century macaroni was the food of the common people in Italy. and giving a reference as Aymard and Bresc, op. cit., pp. 541; 542; Bautier, op. cot., p. 41. which to me looks like they've at least done some research, whereas: Southern U.S. cuisine and Mac cheese and American classic are a bunch of thieving liars all who claim that macaroni is an American dish and who will rot in the scabeous bellies of hungry demons for their sins. Read some of these sites - one site even claims the dish was invented by Thomas Jefferson in 1802. It wasn't, it's not American and never will be. The British eat more baked beans per head than any other country, but we still know they were invented in America. You website writers can have your greasy macaroni with your horrid processed cheese which you call Cheddar (but Cheddar is in England and makes some of the finest, most flavoursome, crumbly cheeses in the world) and I'll stick with maccheroni con besciamella.

Anyway, I've calmed down now, mostly due to the excellent maccheroni con besciamella and a glass or two of wine. There's another website which claims to be the best macaroni cheese in the world but I don't mind this, it's hyperbole, not cultural theft. I claim to make the best trifle but I haven't tried every trifle so I can't be sure (though mine was good, ooh yes...). I will say that I firmly believe that my maraconi was better than the one claiming to be the best, but you just know some wizened old granny in Piedmont has the true greatest recipe, handed down from Saint Paul through generations, as the blessing of a saint would be, not in the form of ingredients, but in the form of a love of cooking which transcends any recipe that can be written in words.

Cake Blog

Rhubarb and sour cream cake from Cafe-Hemer. I don't normally like rhubarb much, but this was very good.


  • Maccheroni con Besciamella,
  • Tomato and basil salad,
  • White crusty bread.


  • Maccheroni: Dried maccheroni, shallots, chilli (not a lot, this isn't a curry), olive oil, bacon, nutmeg, butter, flour, milk, gouda and parmesan cheese, black pepper, salt.
  • Salad: Tomatoes, fresh basil, spiced olive oil.


    Finely dice the shallot and chilli and fry gently in a little olive oil, add a handful of chopped smoked bacon. Put the lid on and allow to stew gently for a few minutes. Put some milk on to warm (or if you have a microwave that's easier). To the shallot mix add a good shake of nutmeg (frying it now will enhance it's flavour), some butter and a grind of pepper. Let the butter melt. Add some flour and stir, keep stirring and ensure the flour forms into a roux. Now add the warm milk (if its warm, you will get not a single lump). Keep stirring, it should thicken to a sauce, if its too thick add some more milk. Grate loads of cheese (I had gouda in the fridge) but make sure you've got some fresh parmesan as well (I always do). Cook until the cheese is melted, you want the sauce fairly liquid as the pasta and further cooking will thicken it greatly. Season with salt and pepper. Place dried pasta into a ceramic dish and pour over the sauce. Stir to mix then place in an oven for 3/4 an hour.
    Salad: I keep promising to do something about spiced oil. I will add it to my comments section today.

    A response from one of those processed cheese eaters across the pond.
    It seemed like you were comparing apples and oranges with the American and Italian versions of macaroni and cheese in your blog. As an American, I honestly believe that Mac&Cheese is a home-grown staple of our culture and has very little to do with the high-brow froo-froo dish the Italians (and snobbish Brits!) enjoy. The true American Mac&Cheese is an unnatural orange color, typically made with the powdered cheese, and (admittedly) can be a greasy affair. Processed orange cheese, such as Velveeta (or rubbery, processed Kraft *cheddar*, if you're trying to make it classy) can be used during special holiday meals or if bachelors are trying to impress prospective girlfriends with their cooking skills. If you want to add something to it, the options are sliced hotdogs, ketchup, or canned salmon & some peas (for Salmon-Pea Wiggle). In short, American Mac&Cheese is not supposed to be a dignififed food. It's (sentimental, surely not nutritional or monetary) value lies in the fact that it tastes good and reminds many Yanks of their childhood days. Plain & Simple.