stuffing mac & cheese
when two become one
I’m trying to get better at gratitude. It can be daunting, with the world’s horrors and vitriol at our fingertips all day, every day. But there is always light, even if it’s distant, even if it’s a sliver through the cracks. And with Thanksgiving upon us, I am determined to focus on that light.
When I slow down for a moment, being grateful is easy. It’s in the big things—achieving career goals, like becoming a published author; spending time with family—and, more often, it’s in the little things—the basil plant that’s still blossoming after 3 months on the windowsill; discovering roasted hazelnut coffee. For those who are lucky like I am, Thanksgiving is the ultimate intersection of both: It’s a chance to spend time with loved ones, whoever and wherever they may be, and indulge in everyday pleasures, like a good meal.
There are two Thanksgiving traditions in my family. One is in Princeton, New Jersey, where the festivities are so quaint that the scene could have been plucked from the pages of Martha Stewart Living (RIP) or the streets of Stars Hollow. There’s the big, beautiful bird, always roasted; mashed potatoes (regular and sweet, with caramelized marshmallows); green beans buried in French’s fried onions; and homemade cranberry sauce. My favorite—because the sides are always the star of the show—is the stuffing brimming with enough butter to cover a hundred slices of bread. And, at the end, there’s pie. Not just one pie, but a whole table of handmade pies: pumpkin pie, pecan pie, chocolate pecan pie, cherry pie. (I am very grateful for the Table of Pies.) There are board games and movies and a crackling fire that whispers Christmas is coming.
Further south, in Maryland, another part of the family gathers for a slightly different but equally nourishing meal. The turkey isn’t roasted, it’s smoked; the stuffing—dressing, if we’re being technical—is baked in individual muffin tins (fondly, “stuffin’ muffins”); the mashed potatoes are silky smooth; the cranberry sauce comes from a can; the desserts vary. And it’s all accompanied by a thoughtfully curated selection of beers. There is football and crock-pot apple cider and the best kind of kitchen chaos.
It might come as a surprise that pasta is not something that appears on either of my family’s Thanksgiving tables. But I do know that it’s a staple for many, particularly in the south, where mac and cheese is king. If you were to ask me, Meryl, what’s on your dream Thanksgiving menu? First, I’d say stuffing. Then, I’d immediately follow up with mac and cheese. And then a lightbulb would go off and I’d say: stuffing mac and cheese!
This recipe is not only a mashup of two of my favorite holiday comfort foods—I’ll never say no to carbs on carbs!—but it’s also the start of a new series. This summer we went all-in on pasta salads, and now that the air is cooler, I’m excited turn on the oven and dive into baked pastas. I couldn’t help but kick things off with some good ole Americana, but over the next few months I’ll be sharing some Italian al forno favorites, too.
So, on that note: Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Thank you for being here. I am so grateful for each and every one of you, and I wish you all a wonderful holiday.
PS: Looking for more Thanksgiving pasta inspiration? Check out my recipe for this autumn lasagne with winter squash and roasted red onions. It’s one of my favorites!
Stuffing Mac & Cheese
Serves 6 to 8