Tag Archives: pasta

Foods of Home — Make Some Chili Mac

Mac and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, chili mac–the comfort foods of the midwestern America. Pasta has a surprisingly long history in American cooking.

Macaroni swept London in the 1770s as fashionable young men did the Grand Tour of Italy and brought back macaroni dishes. The craze for Italian, art Italian fashion, and Italian food carried across the Atlantic into the colonies as well.  British satirists had a field day with Italy-crazed young men, calling the wearers of foppish fashions “Macaronis”. A drinking song satirized the stupid Yankee Doodle dolts (as they were seen in England). The American soldiers, the British sang, didn’t know the difference between a feather and fashion.

For a detailed explanation of the phrase, “Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni”, see this web site on political satire of the American Revolution period.  Just as Hillary Clinton fans gleefully took the title “Nasty Woman” and Donald Trump fans adopted “Despicables” during the 2016 presidential campaign, the American revolutionaries purloined the English song that mocked them.

Our Love Affair with Pasta Goes Way Back

Meanwhile, American housewives imported macaroni (and other pastas) and found new ways to use them.  Later, Italian immigants opened restaurants where they catered to American tastes and American Italian food strayed from the original. Mrs. Beeton‘s wonderfully thorough household guide, published in 1860, explains the differece between various pastas, the wheat used to make the best pasta, and gives numeous recipes for using pasta–in soup, in macaroni with Parmesan cheese, and in macaroni puddings. According to Paul Freedma in Ten Restaurants that Changed America, macaroni was a mainstay on restaurant menus throughout the 19th century.  Even the classiest New York Society hang-outs offered macaroni and cheese.

Chili Mac and Johnny Marzetti

Although I have been able to document the absolute origin of Chili Mac, most sources seem to think it came from Cincinnati, where the famous cinnamon-flavored chili is served on spaghetti to this day.  But there is that little nagging problem of “Why is it alled Chili MAC if it is really Chili GHETTI?” The chili part is never in question. Originally, it probably depended on canned Hormel chili, a cheap and quick way to get a filling meal into a family. As you will see in my recipe, I eschew the old familiar canned stuff and strike out on my own. Cincinnati or not, there is no doubt in my mind that Chili Mac is a typical middle western dish, as is Johnny Marzetti.

Marzetti's Restaurant

Marzetti’s Restaurant Coumbus, Ohio, home of Johnny Marzetti

Johnny Marzetti is easier to trace. Marzetti’s restaurant in Columbus Ohio near the Ohio State University campus mixed noodles with canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, ground beef and cheese and baked the mixture. (That link takes you to the original recipe).  Ms. Marzetti the restaurant’s owner, named the dish for her brother Johnny.  She popularized the comfort food in the 1920s, right when my mother was attending Ohio State University. No wonder Johnny Marzetti became a staple on our dinner table.  The nutrituous, make-ahead casserole, also starred on school lunch menus (all that government donated cheese!) and still shows up on Midwestern potluck tables. Every cook may have a different recipe–my sister and I differ on the kind of noodles to use–I prefer flat noodles for Johnny Marzetti and when I use macaroni the dish becomes chili mac.

I suspect that although both variations of noodles-beef-tomatoes may have originated early in the 20th century, they both got a big boost because of the Great Depression.

Chili Mac soothes and fills the empty tummy on a chilly MidWestern winter day. It is inexpensive, easy on the cook and a perfect comfort food.

Chili Mac

Serves 12
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 25 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Allergy Wheat
Meal type Main Dish
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve Hot
Region American
Comfort food form the mid-west, Chili Mac makes an easy economical and filling meal.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 bag Macaroni (uncooked)
  • 1/2lb ground beef
  • 1 bell pepper (diced)
  • 1 stalk celery (diced)
  • 1 can beans (kidney beans or black beans, seasoned or unseasoned)
  • 8oz canned corn (optional)
  • 1 can tomatoes (diced)
  • chili powder or hot sauce (to taste (I use Cholula hot sauce))
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • garlic salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro (chopped)
  • 1/2-1 cup grated parmesan/romano cheese

Optional

  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 1 can kchopped Hatch green chilis

Directions

1. Cook macaroni according to package directions, drain and set aside. (Under cook slightly since the noodles will be cooking for a short time in the sauce.)
2. Meanwhile, saute the bell pepper and celery and onion in a large skillet, using a small amount of olive oil.
3. Add ground beef, crumbled, to the vegetables in the skillet and cook until browned. Pour off grease if accumulated.
4. Add the canned beans, tomatoes and corn (if using) to the browned hamburger and stir in the seasonings. Stir in the macaroni. Taste and correct seasonings if needed.
5. Sprinkle cheese on top and put a lid on, turning stove down to low. Leave until cheese is melted into the rest. This dish will hold until everyone gets to the table, and can be served diretly from the skillet.
6. If you do not have a very large skillet that will hold all these ingredients, put the cooked macaroni in a casserole dish and then stir in the cooked hamburger and other ingredients. Add cheese on top, and put in 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes--until cheese is melted in.

Note

Feel free to adapt and use what you have on hand. This recipe is abundantly flexible.