Macaroni Pie puts Caribbean Flavor In A Classic Dish

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Macaroni and cheese recipes have seeped, like the ooey-gooey noodle dishes that they are, into the cuisine of many countries around the world. Most often you’ll find it in a form of pasta with a creamy sauce. But a unique and hearty take on mac and cheese comes in the form of macaroni pie, which is also known as baked macaroni.

A firm and savory twist on this comforting classic that you might not have tried before is Trinidadian Macaroni Pie. Traditionally, this take on macaroni pie includes less liquid and adds eggs, evaporated milk, spices, and Scotch bonnet pepper or Caribbean red pepper for serious elevation. The cheese in this West Indies macaroni pie is also typically a sharp cheddar, also known as New Zealand cheddar or Trinidad cheddar.

The New York Times recently put its version of Trinidadian Macaroni Pie online. The recipe uses tomato paste instead of ketchup, as is common in many Trinidadian recipes, and adds mozzarella cheese to the cheddar. It also uses garlic and onion powder, Dijon mustard and fresh thyme leaves along with Scotch bonnet pepper (habanero peppers are a good substitute).

Macaroni and cheese pie slice on a plate next to a fork
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The most cited traditional recipe for Trinidadian macaroni pie comes from the essential Naparima Girls High School cookbooks, which are popular and commonly found in “Trini” homes. The Naparima cookbook version of Trini Macaroni Pie contains the essentials of this recipe: macaroni, eggs, cheddar cheese, evaporated milk, onion, hot pepper, salt and pepper, all baked together and served up in square slices.

Macaroni pie is not only a family meal staple in Trinidad but also neighboring Tobago and throughout the Caribbean. And you’ll see variations on the recipe based on where exactly in the Caribbean you find yourself.

Chris De La Rosa of CaribbeanPot.com said that while macaroni pie wasn’t his favorite dish, it was a staple of Sunday lunch for his and most Trinbagonian families. Common foods served alongside macaroni pie there include rice, stewed or baked chicken, plantains, sweet potatoes, salad, callaloo or stewed red beans.

caribbean cuisine including macaroni pie
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De La Rosa’s Trinidadian macaroni pie has a sprinkle of paprika on top that’s baked into the dish. He also uses bucatini, a long spaghetti-like pasta with a hole in the middle but he mentions that elbow macaroni is a common substitute.

In a Cooking with Ria vlog, Trinidad transplant Ria B. mentions using bucatini cut up into smaller pieces if you can find it. The video is also a no-egg version of Trinidad macaroni pie, though she says her mom highly recommends using eggs. Ria also has a friend who adds carrots to her dish.

She said no matter how you make it, no Trinidad cookbook or food blog is complete without a recipe for macaroni pie. Ria does advise that this dish is best for special occasions because of how decadent and high in calories it is.

“I plead with you, do not add this to your regular meal rotation,” she says in her own recipe, which you can watch unfold below.

Gluten-Free and Vegan Versions

Rigatoni or penne are other pasta substitutes for macaroni pie. Breadcrumbs are a common topper but you’ll also find gluten-free and vegan versions of this Caribbean macaroni and cheese casserole.

That Girl Cooks Healthy author Charla uses brown rice macaroni and flour, vegan cream cheese and regular cheese, and almond milk to make her gluten-free and vegan-friendly macaroni pie.

“Like most Caribbean recipes, each Trinidadian will have their own way of making their pie,” Charla writes. Aside from her vegan and gluten-free substitutes, she likes to add green seasoning, paprika and pimento peppers to her version.

Caribbean macaroni pie in a brown casserole dish
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Sweet Macaroni Pie?

Meanwhile, Trinidadian blogger Shareba of the In Search of Yummyness website wrote about her family’s macaroni pie being a sweet version with brown sugar and white pepper. But Shareba acknowledged that a sweet Trinidadian macaroni pie is not very common.

All the friends she surveyed said they made savory macaroni pie. An aunt adds ginger to hers, while a friend, Heather from Barbados, adds spicy English mustard and standard mustard, ketchup, onion and red pepper sauce to her version, sometimes adding bell peppers, breadcrumbs and butter.

Shareba now thinks that her sweet version of macaroni pie is just as legitimate as savory versions. “There are so many variations in recipes, from country to country, village to village, even person to person, that it’s a bit ridiculous to think that certain recipes should be made one way and one way alone in order to be ‘authentic,'” Shareba writes in her unique recipe.

“Regardless of how you flavour your macaroni pie, it will always be delicious with a saucy main course,” Shareba says. She likes it with stewed or barbecue chicken and uses the macaroni pie to “mop up” the sauce from the meat.