Thursday, April 9, 2015

Elizabeth Setzler's Dunbar Macaroni

I often reflect on my grandmother, Claudia "Elizabeth" Setzler and her superb Southern cooking. She knew so many recipes by heart. Sometimes she didn't use measuring cups and would calculate dry ingredients by how much she was holding in her hand. And her baked goods always turned out deliciously perfect. But, just because I share her first name doesn't mean that I inherited her natural culinary talent. I'm more of a "foodie" and love to eat.

Cooking is sometimes a challenge for me. I've exploded hotdogs in the microwave, burned many pre-made cinnamon rolls, and often get so lost in the deluge of interesting recipes that I end up ordering a pizza. But I'm learning! I'm enthusiastic! I'm experimental! I'm proud that in college I tried to make homemade French Onion soup in my dorm room. I also baked a great spinach lasagna in the "bare bones" kitchen of the Language House (which I spent an hour cleaning up before I even started). When my young family was going through an "egg" phase, I was ecstatic to discover how to scramble an egg in the microwave with just a paper bowl and towel. Many years ago, when I was living with my older sister, who is a gifted chef and did the majority of the cooking, she was impressed by my homemade marinara sauce--which I relied completely on the memory of how my mom made her sauce. To this day, I love making sauces. Though I do often enjoy trying out sauces from jars. For me, mindful cooking has become practical way to express your creativity and nourish your family. Since these are high-priorities for me, I continue to pursue developing my cooking skills. Though I enjoy taking many breaks and eating out, too. And, on some busy school nights, I've resorted to high-quality frozen microwavable meals.

What really helps motivate my cooking at home is when family members share their enthusiasm in meal-planning, prep work, appreciation AND clean-up. It's a major BONUS when I find a food that my whole family likes. Which, at last, brings me back to my wonderful late grandmother. She could prepare dishes that pleased the palate of a huge family. Which, I'm sure, was not always an easy task.

She made some sophisticated dishes but one that has lingered most in my "palate memory" was a simple, spaghetti casserole. It appealed to her 12 grandchildren (and adults, too). Last winter, I longed for this "comfort food" and searched for it online. I came across a reference to Dunbar Macaroni by the author, Pat Conroy. He attended his friend's funeral in Newberry, SC and tried it there. When I read the ingredients, I knew it was very similar to my grandmother's. However, there was no mention of adding any liquid to keep the casserole moist. My grandfather raised turkeys in Newberry County and I'm guessing that she probably added turkey broth. I made a few other modifications and here's what I believe to be a fairly good representation of her version of Dunbar Macaroni.

Setzler Farm (Elizabeth and Carl with their children and turkeys) in 1956

Elizabeth Setzler's Dunbar Macaroni

1 box of spaghetti
2 large onions (diced)
1 28 oz can of whole tomatoes
1/2 cup to turkey broth
3 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 TBS of butter
Salt and pepper to taste
20-30 saltine crackers

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Boil the spaghetti, drain, and set aside.

Saute the diced onions in 2 TBS of water
Cook for about 10 min.

 Add the can of tomatoes to the onions. Cook for another 10 min (until most of the liquid is cooked off). 

Put the drained spaghetti back in a large pot. Add the tomato and onion mixture, sharp cheddar cheese, turkey broth, and butter. Stir. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pour mixture in a casserole dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 min.

Remove foil and place saltines on top. Bake for another 10 min.

Serve with a smile (and sweet memories of my grandmother)!

Healthy substitutions:
Panko crumbs for saltines
quinoa pasta for spaghetti
zuchinni slivers for spaghetti
fresh stewed tomatoes (or "canned" tomatoes in a box)
veggie shreds for sharp cheddar cheese

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