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Social Circle Macaroni Pie from 'Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking'

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[Photograph: Kate Williams]

The name "macaroni pie" is confusing on multiple fronts. This recipe, from Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart's Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, is neither a pie nor made from macaroni. It also obscures the fact that the dish in question is actually just custard-style macaroni and cheese. But this old-school title is also a reminder of the history of the dish. In most older Southern cookbooks, all pasta was called "macaroni," no matter the shape. The spaghetti used in this recipe was favored by Dupree's mother-in-law. And the name pie? It is most likely an import from the Trinidadian name for a similar dish picked up in South Carolina.

Why I picked this recipe: Mac and cheese is total comfort food any time of year, and it would make an excellent addition to any picnic or potluck spread.

What worked: Despite the plethora of cheese and eggs, this macaroni pie actually tastes relatively light. The preparation process is much simpler than roux-based mac and cheeses as well: all you've gotta do is cook the pasta, grate the cheese, and whisk together the custard mixture. The oven does the rest.

What didn't: Measuring out 3 cups of cooked spaghetti is an exercise in frustration. I found that 3 cups worked out to about 8 ounces dry.

Suggested tweaks: You can use any type of pasta you prefer, but the spaghetti actually makes for a pretty fun twist on the usual noodles. I used all cheddar cheese in this version, but a blend with the suggested Gruyère or fontina would taste great. A dusting of parmesan would also be good.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking to give away this week.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American and Berkeleyside NOSH, and she blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.

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