“There’s an important food culture at home of which I’ve either taken for granted or simply remained totally unaware. My family quite literally revolves around my grandparents’ Laminex-topped kitchen table, and it’s nice to be finally waking up to the craft and history behind that. So long as I care to look for them, there are perhaps as many moments, stories and recipes to be shared from home as there might be from my travels.”
The above comes from a previous post, A Fork in the Road, which I wrote back in May this year. I’ve since done a lot of thinking about my family’s food culture, and how I can begin to explore and express it. We’re a big bunch, you see; my mum is one of seven, which makes for rather sizeable family gatherings (on a monthly basis, no less!) and an even bigger spread to feed us all. There’s little fanfare – everyone simply brings a dish. It’s a potluck affair where plates are piled high, often balanced precariously upon knees (rarely is there enough table space for all!), and polished off quickly in time for seconds. And dessert. And countless cups of tea.
Now that I think about it – there’s really something quite special about standing in that dinner line. There’s a powerful sense of ritual there. I can’t help but feel a giddy sense of childhood as we quite literally line up in single file, empty plates in hand, poised to scoop up those familiars and favourites on which we grew up. I don’t even think any of the grandchildren, as grown up we are now, dare begin serving until one of the ‘adults’ has given the go-ahead.
The food at a Hutchy gathering won’t win any awards for refinery or sophisication, sure. Rather, this food is comfort food. This food is the stuff that feeds many. These meals together have become one of our longest and most loved traditions, so really, this food is perhaps just one thing: family. And through a series of blog posts, I am going to share my family with you.
It’s as much a personal exercise than anything: I suddenly feel like it’s very important to learn and record this part of my family’s culture. And I’m beginning with a dish that stands out to me as one of the oldest, most prolific Hutchy recipes: Macaroni Beef.
I like to think that my Grandma magically whipped up Macaroni Beef of her own creation; alas, when I asked her about this recently she told me she’d found the recipe somewhere or other many years ago. In any case, I think we ultimately consider it as hers. It’s simple, hearty and tasty. It is the definition of comfort food for me. I remember making it for Mat for the first time, and being quite stricken when he didn’t immediately love it. He later admitted I’d just gotten incredibly zealous with the mixed herbs – a bit of tweaking, and it quickly became a regular on our menu. I won’t lie – the passionate reaction he now has to a simple, simmering frypan of Macaroni Beef makes me a very happy Hutchy indeed!
I’ve been making my own Macaroni Beef for several years now, and I’m not sure at which point it happened – but it definitely started to taste ever-so-slightly different to Grandma’s. I think I just became more and more particular about the exact way I like it, right down to brand names and pasta shape. This is the version I’ve decided to share – not just because it’s easier to get blood from a stone than to get a precise recipe from my grandma, but because I like the way that for us, Macaroni Beef is kind of that great family dish that everyone can make their own.
And so, without further ado. The first instalment from the Hutchy Kitchen: Macaroni Beef.
- 2 brown onions
- 4 rashers middle bacon
- 500g beef mince
- 1 tin / 420mL condensed tomato soup (I use Heinz Big Red)
- 2 cups / 500mL beef stock (I use Campbell's Real Stock - Beef)
- 300g pasta (I use Large Spirals pasta by San Remo)
- 1 Tbsp (approx.) mixed herbs (I use MasterFoods, and have painfully regretted ever using anything else)
- 1. Dice onions and bacon (remove rind from bacon, but make sure to dice and include the streaky, fatty section alongside).
- 2. Using a large frypan, brown onions and bacon over medium-high heat with a little oil. Add half of mixed herbs about a minute into browning process.
- 3. Add beef mince. Break up mince with a wooden spoon and push through onion and bacon mix. Keep turning until mince is browned.
- 4. Add tomato soup and beef stock, and stir to combine. At this stage the contents of the frypan will look like a rather unappetising, brown meat soup. Hang tight.
- 5. Add remainder of mixed herbs, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for approximately 40 minutes. After this time the beef mix will have reduced to a wonderfully red, sauce-like consistency. Remove from heat.
- 6. Time the cook of your pasta (as per packet instructions) so that it is ready to add once beef mix has reduced.
- 7. Combine pasta and beef mix in frypan. Enjoy!