While abroad in Italy last year, I unknowingly committed a horrible act: I cooked pasta in the microwave, macaroni and cheese to be exact. This intolerable action was brought to my attention by a young, Italian gentleman. I think his name was Demitri. This is the same boy, by the way, who literally turned his back on me while I indulged in one of my favorite studying-abroad in Rome snacks, banana with Nutella. (“A banana is good! Nutella is good! But together?! No!)

Anyway, as I ran to retrieve my bowl of steaming America from the microwave, Demitri pointed in disgust and said…

“What is that?”

“Why it’s an American delicacy, Kraft Easy-Mac,” I said, brandishing my bowl of bright orange noodles with pride. “Would you like a bite?”

A moment of stunned silence occurred.

“You cooked pasta…in a microwave?” I may as well have told him I planned on skipping through the Forum nude next Tuesday, though something tells me that would have been deemed more acceptable than this culinary faux-pas.

I proceeded to tell him that yes; I did in fact make pasta in the microwave. And yes, dear readers, to my preservative deprived tongue at the time, it was indeed delicious.

However, Demitri would be very happy to know that just last night I made macaroni and cheese the old fashioned way: on a stove and in the oven.

Would he still find my meal unacceptable? Probably since it was full of cheddar cheese, which sadly does not exist in Italy. But hey, at least I didn’t disgrace my noodles.

~Brittni

Macaroni and Cheese
If you want to get super technical, you could call this a hamburger casserole. But that just sounds unappetizing. Rather, it is baked macaroni and cheese that happens to have ground beef mixed in. In other words: good, wholesome, American cooking. I especially like the bread crumbs on top, which give it a nice crispy crust. Just be sure you don’t serve this with a balsamic vinegar salad. My father, who, thanks to several episodes of Iron Chef America, now considers himself quite the culinary aficionado, claimed that the tang from the vinegar did not “compliment” the smooth flavor of the cheese sauce. Thank you Alton Brown for turning my father into a foodie.

You will need:
1 tbsp. butter
½ pound ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
½ cup milk
6 oz. cheddar cheese
1 can celery soup
1 ½ cups pasta (small shell pasta is recommended, but I used penne and it was just fine)
Bread crumbs and extra cheese for topping

Directions:

Set the oven to a mild 350.

Chop your onion, try not to cry, and brown it and your beef in the butter in a large skillet at medium-low heat.

Meanwhile, heat your water for the pasta.

Once your meat is sufficiently brown, add the milk, cheddar cheese and soup. Stir about and keep the heat going until the cheese has melted completely.

When the pasta water boils, add a bit of salt and drop your pasta. Boil, stirring occasionally, for about 9 minutes or until al dente.

Drain your pasta and add it to your cheese sauce. Stir until combined and transfer to a casserole dish.

Top with a lovely bit of bread crumbs and cheese, toss the whole shebang in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

Yield ~ 4 servings

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