Arriving in Brazil among so many Italians after the Second World War, this dish spread across the country faster than the expats.
Much discussion about the dish’s character has added to its fame across the world. Etiquette once suggested that one should twirl the pasta around the fork supported by a spoon in the plate, but nowadays that practice is all but gone from the macarronada eating protocol.
While the North Americans enjoyed their spaghetti on Wednesdays, most everyone in Brazil ate macarronada on Sundays – the newly-arrived Italian immigrants started that custom by selling the new delicacy outside the churches after Sunday masses.
The people from the state of Minas Gerais claim to have the best recipes for that dish, because we incontestably, produced the best cheese in the country… Cheese is the macarronada’s soul. My mother used grated cured local cheese in her recipe. She topped her pasta with fresh slices of soft cheese prior to baking it.
Not surprisingly, the versatile recipe varied from family to family; and some people, even in Minas Gerais reached for the Parmesan. The tomato sauce simmering on the stove perfumed the house and enticed the family’s appetite as they arrived for the gathering.
These days, my Sundays are filled with reflections about the macarronada Sundays from my childhood. I long for the simplicity of those years and look back at that reality with great pride for the innocent happiness we lived then.
In my kitchen, the simmering of tomato, garlic and onion still evokes Bolognese-sauce soaked memories of Sister Gabriela’s catechism after Sunday Mass. The uncomplicated dish echoes unrehearsed singing and guitar playing of siblings and friends awaiting the feast.
Unhurriedly, the dish with so few ingredients, takes shape with the warm scent of cooked spaghetti. The magic of this comfort-food soothes a family’s hullabaloo, as if it was turkey at Thanksgiving.
There are no more macarronada Sundays. Brazil has changed its eating habits along with the rest of the world. That magical moment after the spaghetti Bolognese, when my family yielded to the day’s laziness on the veranda and stretched like lizards in the afternoon sun is long gone.
Today, the Sunday brunch in restaurants occupies everyone’s agenda - and on special celebrations, the family might gather in a restaurant that advertises home-style-cooked food.
Whether on a Sunday or Wednesday, you should make this dish every time you miss your mother’s hug or your dreams for better days.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cups very ripe tomatoes, diced
2 cups water
3 cups grated hard cheese
½ pound shredded mozzarella
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound spaghetti
1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottom pan and brown the beef over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and mix it thoroughly. Add the diced tomatoes and water and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered for about 2 hours.
2. Cook the spaghetti al dente and drain it.
3. Slowly add the sauce to the pasta, making sure it coats well, but do not drench the spaghetti. Add the grated cheese mixing thoroughly; pour the mixture in a baking dish, cover with the shredded mozzarella and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 10 minutes or until golden.