This Bajan macaroni pie recipe takes the ultimate comfort food, baked mac and cheese, to another level. Loaded with spices such as paprika, thyme, chilli and mustard and baked in the oven with a golden crust of cheese and breadcrumbs, it doesn’t get more comforting than this.
Introduction to Barbados
We’ve cooked our way through two Caribbean countries, and now we are already on to our third… Barbados! If you’ve read our posts from Antigua or the Bahamas, you may be able to deduce that Caribbean cuisine hasn’t had us overly enthused thus far. Neither archipelago have proffered many vegetarian-friendly dishes. However, we had heard that Barbados is supposedly the culinary capital of the Caribbean, so we went in with open minds and hungry bellies.
Like many countries in the Caribbean, Barbadian cuisine (also known as Bajan) is a mash-up of cultures. Prominent influences include African, Portuguese, Indian and British. Unsurprisingly, this Caribbean island is most known for its seafood, meaning most typical Barbadian dishes revolve around fish. A typical meal consists of meat or fish served with sides and sauces. Apparently, they really love their condiments in Barbados, so it is not uncommon to be served a multitude of sauces with a meal. In terms of flavour, Barbados uses strong, spicy combinations such as thyme, marjoram, chilli, garlic and lime juice.
When it comes to vegetables, asparagus and okra are grown in abundance so feature in a lot of recipes. If you are visiting Barbados, supposedly everywhere is vegetarian friendly. However, similar to the other Caribbean nations we have cooked from, there aren’t a huge number of typical dishes that don’t include meat.
Popular Bajan Dishes
- Coucou– The vegetarian part of the national dish of Barbados, coucou is made using cornmeal grain and fresh okra, and often comes topped with tomatoes, onions and peppers.
- Cutters– Essentially cutters are the Barbadian version of a sandwich, served on their traditional salt bread and served Bajan pepper sauce and assorted fillings such as egg and cheese
- Macaroni Pie- A decadent take on mac and cheese that uses spices, ketchup, mustard and evaporated milk for extra flavour then baked in the oven
- Conkies– A traditional dessert made of sweet potato, pumpkin, cornmeal and coconut wrapped in banana leaves, usually served during the island’s annual independence celebrations in November.
- Bajan Black Cake– Similar to Christmas plum pudding, this dense cake is filled with dried fruit. However, in this Bajan dessert, brandy is replaced rum.
Making baked mac & cheese (Bajan macaroni pie)
Believe it or not, one the most popular foods to eat in Barbados is macaroni pie. In fact, many people consider it to be the unofficial national dish of the country. To be honest, this is not exactly the kind of dish we expected to find in the Caribbean. Then again, given the proximity to the USA, it kind of makes sense that this a version of this typical American dish has found its way down.
That being said, we definitely aren’t complaining. We love a good mac and cheese (who doesn’t?), and we love variations of a classic dish. After the roaring success, we had with making Austrian Style Mac & Cheese (Käsespätzle) we were excited to give macaroni pie a go. Plus, given the limited vegetarian offerings of Barbadian cuisine, this seemed like a good option to run with.
What is macaroni pie?
Macaroni pie is essentially a Barbadian take on baked mac and cheese. However, there are a few key differences between the two. The first difference is the texture. Mac and cheese tends to include a creamy, liquid sauce, while macaroni pie is baked in the oven and comes out a lot firmer. The second difference is the flavour profile. Unlike mac and cheese, which is a notoriously mild dish, Barbadian macaroni pie has a bit more kick to it. Spices such as paprika and thyme are included in the mixture, and chilli peppers are also commonly added for extra heat. The third difference is the variations ingredients used. Instead of normal milk, macaroni pie is made using evaporated milk to produce a thick, creamy texture. Other ingredients that are often added include mustard and ketchup.
We really enjoyed making and consuming this macaroni pie. It turned out to be super creamy on the inside, crunchy and golden on top, and had lots of interesting flavour going on throughout. Ours didn’t turn out quite as firm as the ones we had seen pictures of, but we preferred a slightly softer texture. The only qualm we had with our macaroni pie was that we made too much pasta and not enough sauce. We’ve adapted the recipe below to make sure the ratio of pasta and sauce is sufficient!
How to make baked mac & cheese (macaroni pie)
- Preheat oven and cook macaroni according to packet
- Sauté onion, garlic and all the spices together then pour over cooked macaroni
- Combine eggs, milk, mustard, salt and pepper in bowl and pour over macaroni along with half the cheese
- Transfer to casserole dish, top with more cheese, bake for 35 minutes and allow to cool slightly before serving. Easy as (macaroni) pie.
Ingredients notes for macaroni pie
- Cheese– For our macaroni pie recipe, we used a mix of mozzarella and cheddar cheese. Mozzarella works well for its melty texture and cheddar is great for flavour. However, feel free to use a mix of whatever cheese you wish.
- Chilli- If you like spice, we’d recommend using a fresh chilli (jalapenos work well) as well as chilli powder. However, do omit if you are spice-sensitive.
- Evaporated milk- Evaporated milk is one of the key ingredients that differentiates macaroni pie from regular mac and cheese. Its thick, creamy texture helps
- Breadcrumbs– To add a delicious golden crust to our macaroni pie, we added a layer of panko breadcrumbs in with the final layer of cheese. This is optional, but recommended (and you can use any type of breadcrumb you have on hand).
Serving suggestions for the baked mac and cheese (macaroni pie)
This baked macaroni pie works wonderfully as a stand-alone vegetarian meal, otherwise you can have it as a side to another dish. We served ours with a nice fresh salad to balance out the rich, creaminess of the dish, but you can really serve this with whatever your heart desires!
- 500 g elbow macaroni
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 onion (finely diced)
- 4 cloves of garlic (minced)
- 1 chilli (diced)
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1/2 tsp chilli powder
- 2 eggs. beaten
- 2 cups evaporated milk
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- Salt & pepper (to taste )
- 1 cup mozzarella (grated)
- 2 cups cheddar cheese (grated)
- 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 175˚C (350˚F) and grease a large casserole dish.
- Cook macaroni according to the directions on the packet. Once cooked, drain and place back in pot to cool.
- Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of butter to pan. Add in diced onion and sauté until caramelised, around 7 minutes. Add in minced garlic, diced chilli, paprika, thyme and chilli powder and sauté for another minute. Pour mixture from frying pan over cooked macaroni and stir to combine.
- In a large bowl, beat eggs. Add evaporated milk, mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Pour egg mixture over macaroni and stir to combine. Stir in 1/2 cup mozzarella and 1 cup cheddar cheese. Tip macaroni mixture into greased casserole tin. Top with remaining cheese and breadcrumbs.
- Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes or until pie is firm. At the 25 minute mark, take off foil and allow to brown on top.
More comfort food dishes to try:
- Käsespätzle Recipe: Mac and Cheese from Austria
- Draniki Recipe: Mushroom-Stuffed Potato Cakes from Belarus
- Easy Red Lentil Dal (Bengali Masoor Dal)