We have a Grandpa Lowell recipe today. Years and years ago Grandpa found a recipe he liked and we all fell in love with it as well. I had forgotten exactly where he’d first found it. When I told Grandma Mavis the other day I was going to post the recipe, she enlightened me. The recipe was originally made by his Aunt Annabelle, who had found it on the side of a government cheese box. The recipe was for a fairly typical elbow macaroni, crushed tomatoes and cheese hotdish. The new and improved ingredient was fried bacon.
Back then bacon wasn’t put into every third dish as it is now. Using bacon in a pasta dish was a revolutionary step in the 80s. The usual ground beef, fried and crumbled into a hotdish, paled in comparison. Bacon gave the casserole a new life and we dived in with mouths wide open.
I’ve made the casserole so many times I didn’t have it written down anywhere. It is simple and there was no need to write it down once I learned to make it regularly. The kids just loved the heck out of Grandpa Lowell’s casserole. Grandma Mavis found the original recipe for me recently and it was basically the same ingredients I used, just in different proportions. The only other change is that I don’t use American cheese, which was what the government gave to the lower income senior citizens.
The recipe starts with a package of bacon. You could use either a whole or half package, both work. This time I used a half package and diced it up into small pieces before frying. I liked to do that to make sure each piece gets browned and crispy. Once the bacon is added to the casserole it will get wiggly and just you know, kind of gross when mixed with wet ingredients. We definitely don’t want it still pale and wiggly!
While the bacon is frying I bring a pot of water to a boil with a teaspoon or so of salt. When it’s boiling I add a box of pasta to the water. Usually it’s elbow macaroni, that’s the tradition. But I’ve used rotini and shells and other pastas depending on what’s in the pasta cupboard. The kids don’t like me to use colored pastas or whole wheat pastas. They’re Grandpa Lowell’s Casserole purists. It’s one of those comfort dishes that cannot be altered with “weird” noodles.
When the pasta is al dente I drain it and reserve a couple of cups of pasta water in case I need it when I blend the pasta. I put the pasta back into the large pot and add a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes and a 15 ounce can of tomato sauce to the pot. I stir them together and place them back on the stove on medium heat.
I add the bacon and drippings to the pot and stir them all together again. Canned tomatoes are usually salty enough, and the bacon as well, so I rarely add more salt to the casserole. Taste test for your own preferences. I do add about a teaspoon of black pepper and stir it in.
I let the pasta cook and asborb the tomato sauce, stirring occasionally. When the casserole is the right consistency, add 2 cups of cheddar cheese and stir well. Turn the heat to simmer and let the cheese melt for about 5 minutes. Stir often; it is going to stick to the bottom!
Instead of simmering on the stovetop before and after adding the cheese, you could pour the casserole into a ovenproof dish and place it in the oven for 20 minutes or so. That is the original recipe, but I don’t like the texture when it’s baked. We prefer to make it a stovetop casserole.
It’s ready to serve! What is essentially a four ingredient casserole has lots of flavor and is favored by adults as well as kids in our family. I served it the other night when two grandkids stayed overnight for a Wii marathon before school starts again. They loved it, I don’t think I’d made it for them before. Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures of the cooking process as I usually do. It didn’t occur to me until I was ready to serve it that I hadn’t blogged our most favorite casserole! But it’s simple, I think you can do it without pictures this time. I hope you do try it!
Grandpa Lowell’s Bacon Tomato Hot Dish
½ – 1 package bacon; your choice
1 box elbow macaroni, cooked according to box instructions in salted water to al dente
28 ounces crushed tomatoes
15 ounces canned tomato sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (mild is probably best but I’ve used sharp as well with success)
Dice bacon into small pieces and fry in a skillet over medium heat until browned and crispy. Set aside bacon and drippings.
Heat a pot of water to boiling, add salt, and cook pasta until al dente according to box instructions. Drain, reserving 2 cups of pasta water.
Place pasta back in pot, add tomatoes, tomato sauce, bacon and drippings. Stir and cook over medium heat until pasta absorbs some of the tomato liquids. Add pasta water if pot becomes too dry.
Add cheese, stir and cook for another few minutes until melted. Beware of bottom, it will burn if not stirred often.
Set aside with lid until rest of dinner is ready to serve. Or eat it as a complete meal with a side salad.
May also be heated in the oven for 30 minutes instead of simmering on the stove. Place it in a preheated oven at 350°F.