Mac-O-Lanterns

“I’m making two trays this year,” piped my mother, informing me of the change in our favorite Halloween menu. Wow, twice as much! More for me was always a good thing.
But I had jumped to a mistaken conclusion. It turned out that my nephew, for some reason, wanted his mac and cheese without the crunchy breadcrumb topping. I shuddered. That wasn’t right! We never make it that way! Why wasn’t I consulted?!
But, rather than rail about it, I shrugged off launching into a battle I’d already lost. Half was still perfect, anyway. And crunch or not, it was still mac and cheese, so it wasn’t like I was really losing. Whatever it took to get everyone moving through the narrow window of sweet opportunity.
For the last few years, my house has been the trick-or-treating jump off for all of my immediate family. We live in a walkable suburban neighborhood, with a lot of kids around, so it works well. Everyone shows up at dusk, costumed and anxious to go. But cool temperatures and grumbly stomachs, not to mention the delightful aromas, usually persuade us to tank up on our old family favorite before setting off.
There are as many ways to make mac and cheese as there are cooks. Everyone who likes it prefers a certain way—baked, creamy , with tomatoes, broccoli, pimiento, or even chiles. These would all do nicely.
However, I’m happy with the one that has done it for me since I was a kid stuffing my face in my grandmother’s kitchen. Halloween can wait. Halloween-and-cheese
Preparation is simple. We mix two pounds of cooked pasta with a large can of marinara, about 64 ounces of tomato soup, and two or three bags of shredded mixed cheese, then fold into baking dishes large enough to hold it (usually two deep 9×13″ pans). We cover with bread crumbs and set into a 350-degree oven until the pans bubble, about 20-25 minutes. Suddenly, everyone is at the table, armed with forks and expectant looks.
I’m not sure how this particular dish came to be associated with our annual neighborhood candy grab. They have nothing in common. Maybe we caught the luck of the draw, driven by the necessity of feeding our antsy young crowd. Maybe it was its simplicity, its scalability, or its historic family appeal. Whatever the reason, it is as much a part of the festivities as carved pumpkins.
Judging by how fast the stuff disappears, that’s fine by all of us, with or without crunchy breadcrumbs.

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