Macaroni, Peanuts, and Cheese is a one of the more unique recipes in The Black Family Reunion Cookbook, a contribution from Ms. Hazel Isaiah-Ransom. She tells a story of growing up in small-town Oklahoma with a 10 (!) siblings and a mother who could never make enough macaroni and cheese to feed the crew. Young Hazel was an avid reader and enjoyed cookbooks and cooking magazines – when she asked to experiment in the kitchen her mother was more than happy for the help. This recipe was the end product of multiple attempts and “trial runs” at improving on her mother’s recipe.
And it’s not any more complicated than it sounds – this is a creamy, casserole-type macaroni and cheese with a healthy portion of ground peanuts stirred in. The inclusion of peanuts is not surprising. Peanuts were and are an important, inexpensive source of protein for American families, and I imagine a handful of nuts went a long way towards filling the bellies of 11 hungry kids. They are particularly important in African American cuisine, tracing back to related ground nuts that were foundational in African diets. And while the peanuts may have been added originally out of necessity or tradition, it’s an inspired combination. The peanuts add both protein and fat, and the end result is heart-stoppingly rich.
I’ve made a few adjustments from Ms. Isaiah-Ransom’s original, mostly to add some acidity. I’ve added mustard and substituted sharp cheddar cheese for American cheese, which tips the balance in the final dish so that you can really taste the cheese. The peanuts play a supporting role, more for a meaty texture than flavor. Your kitchen will still smell like roasted peanuts while you’re cooking, but the final dish isn’t intended to taste like peanut butter. A couple of cranks of freshly ground black pepper complete the dish.
Macaroni, Peanuts, and Cheese has enough substance to work as a main course. All it needs is a side of bitter greens for color. I’ve found, however, that it works better as a side dish as part of a Southern-style meal. prefer to serve it with pork chops or chicken with a tangy barbecue sauce – the sweetness and acid help to balance out the richness.
The Black Family Reunion Cookbook is still in print, and can be purchased here: https://amzn.to/34cqlD3
- Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Cook macaroni as per package directions.
- Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour salt to form a roux, then add mustard and hot sauce and continue to stir until well-incorporated into the roux and slightly browned.
- Add milk all at once and heat, stirring constantly, until a thick, creamy texture is achieved. Add half the cheese and half the peanuts and stir until cheese is melted. Add the cooked macaroni noodles and combine.
- Pour the mixture into a greased casserole dish or - better yet - a large, greased pyrex bowl.
- Cook for 10-15 minutes. Add remaining cheese and peanuts and mix well. Return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes until mixture is bubbly and the edges are browned.