Gus Gauch was a farmer who lived down the road from us in the country. He was also one of the two best fly fishermen on the Namekagon River north of Hayward.
When I was eight years old, Gus talked my mother into letting him teach me how to fly fish for trout. She was afraid that her firstborn might not make it home from the river, and if she had seen me starting to float away in my brand new plastic waders that first day, my trout fishing career would have ended pretty quickly. However, Gus was there to catch me as I was about to tip over, and we never told her about it.
I learned a lot of things from Gus, one of which was not to tell your mother everything. Another was his recipe for macaroni and cheese. The first time I had it was in late winter when Gus asked me to come over after supper so we could tie some flies. When I got there he was still eating. He asked me if I wanted some macaroni and cheese, and since I hadn’t had anything to eat for fifteen minutes I said yes.
It wasn’t like my mother’s macaroni and cheese but I loved it. Unlike most macaroni and cheese recipes, this one does not use a white sauce into which you melt the cheese. Instead, you layer the cooked macaroni, shredded cheese and buttered bread crumbs in a baking dish and heat it briefly in the oven. It is extremely simple and easy to make, has no trans fats, is lower in calories than ordinary mac and cheese and is just plain delicious.
2 cups uncooked macaroni
4 – 5 T butter
8 ounces medium cheddar cheese
3 or 4 slices dry bread or buns to make 1 cup of bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 300º and bring two quarts of water to boiling.
While the water is heating, shred the cheese and set it aside. When the water reaches a full boil, stir in the macaroni and cook nine or ten minutes; I always add a half teaspoon of salt to the boiling water, but suit yourself. Drain but do not rinse so the pasta will be hot when you assemble the dish.
While the macaroni is cooking, crush three or four slices of dry bread to make about one cup of bread crumbs. Do not try to turn the crumbs into a powder. Leave some pieces a quarter in diameter or so to provide a little variety in appearance. Melt four tablespoons of butter in a small frying pan on low heat. When the butter is melted, add the bread crumbs and toast slightly stirring with a fork until the crumbs are mixed with the butter. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. I use about a fourth teaspoon each of salt and pepper. If the crumbs seem too dry, add a little more butter.
Butter an ovenproof eight by twelve-inch glass baking dish. Put a thin layer (a scant half inch) of macaroni into the dish, sprinkle about one-third of the cheese evenly over the macaroni. Repeat with two more layers. Spread bread crumbs over the top and put the uncovered dish in the hot oven. Heat about fifteen minutes until the cheese is melted.
And that’s it!
NOTES: You can use mild or sharp cheddar cheese for a different flavor. And if you want to be fancy, grate an extra tablespoon of cheese on top of the crumbs. If you don’t have any dry bread, toast four slices and cut them into small cubes. Hot dog or hamburger buns you have dried in the oven work very well also.