I know what you’re thinking: Elvis ate things other than his legendary fried peanut butter and banana sandwich? And my response to you is: Of course he did. Man cannot subsist on fried sandwiches alone. He must also eat fried chicken. And chicken pot pie. And scrapple. And mac and cheese. And then he must procure himself some Tums and a trainer, because, my landy, after living off of a diet like that you’re either going to lapse into a permanent state of narcoleptic splendor or force yourself to hit the gym. Or, at least, I would. Elvis probably just grabbed another bottle of root beer, tucked his napkin further into his collar, then reached for a fourth slice of ham.
It may seem odd that I am taking this time to highlight the eating habits of Elvis Presley, but I do have a very good excuse for my interest. It is this book, purchased long, long ago on the basis of its title alone:
That’s a pan-fried bratwurst on the cover, by the way. It is covered with wine-sautéed sauerkraut and bell peppers, then sprinkled with just a dusting of caraway seeds. To Elvis’ right is a rib roast, and to his left is fried chicken. I would imagine that behind Elvis, where no one can see, is a defibrillator, but that’s just speculation on my part. He might have a stash of sweet potato pie back there, for all I know.
Inside this book, as you can probably imagine, are dozens of recipes based on Elvis’ favorite foods. There are a handful of vegetable recipes in there, quite a bit of meat and potatoes-type dishes, and a solid sampling of dessert finds. Tucked in between a recipe for spaghetti and meatballs and a recipe for collard greens cooked with ham, butter, and sugar sits this recipe for macaroni and cheese.
I first made this macaroni and cheese over a decade ago, when looking for something Southern-ish to take to a potluck. Back then, I made it pretty much as the recipe read, going straight Elvis-style in an effort to stick to the potluck’s Southern theme. In the years since, I have altered the recipe quite a bit, adding flavors here and there, cutting out additional butter, and dreaming up a crisp, crumbly topping for the dish that would provide a bit more textural interest. Though my version does not really resemble the original recipe any longer, I’d like to think that the inspiration is still hovering somewhere in there.
Being as though this is still macaroni and cheese, we greet this dish about once a year, usually right around Christmas, when we tend to live our lives at the height of indulgence. I may have taken some of the Elvis out of this dish when I toned down its Southern sins (and I swapped in sharp cheddar cheese for Elvis’ stated favorite of American cheese, because no), but it’s still a far cry from being healthy or reasonable. That said, I make this with 1% milk, and you can, if you choose, use whole grain pasta if you really want to attempt to make this dish a bit more virtuous. Don’t go overboard on your healthifying efforts, though. Like I said, it is still macaroni and cheese.
Elvis Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
1 pound macaroni or cavatappi
2 tablespoons flour
¼ cup finely diced onion
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups milk
2 or 3 slices of dark, whole grain or rye bread, slightly stale or lightly toasted and cooled
1 large clove of garlic
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter a large casserole dish or lasagna pan.
Boil pasta in well-salted water until just tender. You still want the pasta to retain a toothsome bite.
While the pasta is cooking, combine the bread slices and garlic clove in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the two ingredients together until the garlic is pulverized and the bread is finely chopped into breadcrumbs, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil.
Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot in which it was boiled. Sprinkle over the flour and diced onion, and add the Dijon mustard. Stir to thoroughly combine everything. Add 3 cups of the shredded cheese, and stir to combine.
Pour the pasta into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cup of shredded cheese on top. Pour the milk over the pasta. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the pasta.
Bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are dark golden brown.