What happens when, while living abroad, you make one of the most American foods ever, which happens to be the most important side dish of the dinner of the second most American holiday in existence¹, for a quantity of no less than 30 people from six different countries, in a house in the mountains, where eating, boozing [repeat and repeat], laughing, hiking, and fighting the dog for stolen turkey bones from the garbage commence for approximately a weekend? You get zero pictures of the finished product in all it's magnificent glory, and are forced to steal any photographic evidence of its cooked existence from other people's facebook albums. And contrary to what you may initially have thought, your Thanksgiving in Spain is pleasingly similar to Thanksgiving at home, with the hilarious exception of the entire "family" getting plastered and the addition of a resplendent mountain backdrop and a pool. Basically, my Thanksgiving in Spain was amahzing, but more importantly my Spanish rendition of Linda's [mommy] famous macaroni and cheese was a success!
For starters, I must talk about the Españification of this American classic, because while the Spaniards are quite fond of cheese, they are not quite so fond of variety or importing good American cheddar. And though my Spanish is still not where I want it to be three months into this adventure, I was still able to clearly communicate with the guy at the carnicería that a gub'ment cheese-looking block of mild cheddar was not hell what I was looking for.
The monumentous task of cooking a ginourmous batch of macaroni and cheese--with 4 willing sous chefs--simultaneously as my roommate baked 4 pies from scratch was no less than slightly ridiculous. Skyping with 20 family members who just finished real Thanksgiving dinner whilst in the middle of doing so was absurd. And staying up till 5 am to finish preparing the mac and cheeses, only to be kept up till close to 6 am by miniature poodle who stole an entire slice of pizza and a result was sick for the remainder of the evening, waking up at 11 to put the macaroni in the oven, and leaving 2 hours behind schedule to the casa rual already made it a true Thanksgiving.
And then we got to the house in the mountains...
And we good folks from the USA, Spain, England, Belgium, Canada, & Scotland went in on Thanksgiving.
There was laughter. There were 2 turkeys. There was drinking (lots). There was dinner. There was drama. There was paella. There was inappropriateness. There was hiking. There was love. And for damn sure, there was fun.
And a merry, messy, and incredible Thanksgiving it was indeed.
Spanish Macaroni & Cheese
1 Box Elbow Macaroni
1 1/4 Cup Irish Cheddar
1/3 Cup Manchego Muy Fuerte (very strong)
1/4 Cup Manchego Reserva (aged, best quality)
1/4 Cup Manchego Viejo (aged)
2/3 Cup Gruyere
1 medium onion, finely minced
1/4 Cup Seasoned bread crumbs²
1/2 Cup Milk
2-3 Tbsp Butter
Grate all cheeses, and set aside separately. Finely mince a medium onion, and set aside.
In a large pot, bring 1 gallon of bring water to a boil, season generously with salt and olive oil. Add pasta noodles, boil approximately 8 minutes, or until al dente, drain, and set in a large foil pan.
Preheat oven to 325F
While macaroni noodles are still hot. Combine butter, onion, 3/4 of bread crumbs, 1 egg, and 1/2 your milk, and 1/3 of all cheese together until evenly coated.
Then continue to mix in each of cheeses separately. Use all but 1/4 cup of at least two of the 4 cheeses and 1/4 of bread crumbs. While mixing in cheeses, add remainder of milk to ensure a semi wet and texture of the mixture; if it is too dry, add an additional egg.
Stir until all ingredients are well incorporated, and mixture has a semi-wet consistency that almost sticks to the spoon. Stir in salt, pepper and paprika to taste, and taste the mixture³! You should be able to taste the different flavors of each cheese, a hint of onion, and hint of the paprika. Top the mixture off with a final dusting of the remaining breadcrumbs and cheese.
Bake in a 325F oven for approximately 45 minutes, or until macaroni is firmly set, the top of macaroni is browned, and the edges are slightly crisp.
¹In my opinion, after 4th of July, nothing screams America as much as Thanksgiving.
²I made my own bread crumbs with stale baguettes, olive oil, salt and pepper. It's labor intensive, so there's no shame in buying them pre-made.
³When I was a kid, it used to gross me out when my mom did this, but it's absolutely essential.