Beethoven – macaroni with cheese

BEETHOVEN – MACARONI WITH CHEESE

One of Ludwig van Beethoven’s all-time favourite dishes was macaroni with cheese. As to whether Beethoven did or did not eat the short, curved and hollow tubes we nowadays know as macaroni, opinions are divided. Some experts are convinced that it was actually something like spaghetti, because “our” macaroni -allegedly- came into existence only after the introduction of the mechanized pasta industry. In the “Allgemeines Österreichisches Wiener Kochbuch” (General Austrian Viennese Cookbook) by Anna Hofbauer, however, we come across a recipe for “Italienische Maccaroni” (Italian macaroni), in which a different light is shed on this case: “Dieselben haben die form einer kleinen hohlen Röhre, und werden vom Nudelteig erzeugt”, which means that they have the form of small, hollow tubes made of noodle dough. The cookery book was published in 1825, two years before the death of the composer.

The confusion is probably due to the fact that after the introduction of the machines for commercial production, a kind of pasta of hollow, but long thin strands called macaroni became extremely popular in the Italian city of Naples. Neapolitans had, of course, been eating pasta for centuries when the first pasta machines appeared in the early 1800s, but these newfangled “maccheroni” became so popular that they barely ate anything else. It was bought from street vendors and eaten with the hands. That became such an important feature of the identity of the city that a popular folk type came into existence: the “mangiamaccheroni”; the macaroni-eater. Street children gobbling down macaroni with an ecstatic smile on their face appeared on countless postcards and pictures in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Beethoven - macaroni

Hollow tube macaroni was made in Italy since the Middle Ages at least. These were not, of course, made mechanically, but by hand, as is still the practice in many Italian households. It was also produced commercially, for local sales. Pasta makers were called “lasagnare” or “vermicellai”. In Florence there was even a guild of these “lasagnare”.

In his “Libre de Arte Coquinaria” the “Prince of Cooks”, Martino da Como*, describes how macaroni in Sicilian, Genuse and Roman style were made at home. For macaroni Sicilian style Martino used a dough of flour, water an egg white. After kneading, the dough was divided into little lumps, which were rolled into tubes as long as the palm of a hand. These tubes were pierced with a thin pin while folding the dough around it, after which the pin was removed. “This macaroni”, Martino continues, “must be dried in sunlight and remains good for two or three years, especially when made under the August moon”. Then the Master instructs us about how macaroni was made in Genoa and Rome. Here, the dough was rolled out to a thin sheet, which was wound around a long pin. The pin was removed, and the thus formed hollow tube was cut into pieces. If we add this up to Anna Hofbauer’s “little hohlen Röhre”, we can say with probability bordering on certainty that Beethoven actually did eat something pretty similar to what we nowadays call macaroni. Probably bought in the shop around the corner, certainly made by hand, but not of durum wheat as modern pasta, but assumably from a dough of flour and eggs, in the ratio of 1 egg to 100 gr. of flour.

*Martino de Rossi or Martino de Rubeis, bettter known as Maestro Martino or Martino da Como, was a 15th-century Italian chef. He made it cook of the Camerlengo, the Cardinal-Chamberlain, the most important official in the Catholic church, next to the Pope, of course. His book, the “Libro de Arte Coquinaria” (The Art of Cookery), written about 1465, is considered a milestone in gastronomic literature and has greatly influenced his contemporaries.

As early as 1768, in the “Wienerisches bewährtes Koch-Buch” by Ignaz Gartler, we find a recipe for “Mackeroni-Nudeln”. The recipe is very similar to how we make still macaroni with cheese, except that Gartler uses crayfish tails and crayfish butter. Although Beethoven was definitely a fish lover, it is not likely that he wanted crayfish in his macaroni and cheese. He had no time for frills and frippery, on his plate or otherwise. Moreover, the recipe with the lobster tails was copied from an even older book, the “Nutzliches Koch-Buch” from 1740 by an anonymous author, and here we are definitely back in the days when cookery books were exclusively written for the benefit of the kitchens of the very, very wealthy. So, we leave out the crayfish and take another look at Anna Hofbauer’s recipe. She simply mixes the boiled pasta with butter, Parmesan cheese and eggs. So much laziness is unworthy of a Beethovian dish, but a combination of both recipes makes up a platter with which the Master would certainly have been delighted. Rich it is, with butter, cream, cheese and eggs, baked in the oven to a feast of golden, aromatic delight.

BEETHOVEN’S MACARONI WITH CHEESE

500 gr. (4 cups) macaroni (preferably hand-made)
150 gr. (2 cups) grated Parmezan cheese
breadcrumbs
125 gr. (¾ cup) butter
125 gr. (¾ cup) cream
2 eggs
salt
ground mace

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF.

Boil the macaroni in salted water, drain, rinse with cold water and let it drain well.

Grease a baking sheet with butter. Sprinkle it with breadcrumbs and turn it upside down to get rid of the excess crumbs. Put half the cooked macaroni into the dish. Sprinkle it with breadcrumbs, 2/3 of the grated cheese and some mace. Beat the butter with the eggs and a pinch of salt. Pour half of it in the baking dish. Cover it with the rest of the pasta, pour the remaining mixture over it, sprinkle it with the rest of the cheese and put here and there some lumps of butter on it.

Put it in the hot oven and bake for 20 minutes.

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