Caribbean macaroni pie is a beloved baked macaroni and cheese dish that no gathering can go without, especially during the holidays. It’s crowd pleasing, tasty, and economical. Whenever there is a holiday potluck the question is always, “Who made the macaroni pie?” There’s a silent judgment in the air and to get a “pass” it means the pie has to be tasty on its own and also complement everything else on the plate, such as a comforting Sunday afternoon lunch of stewed chicken, callaloo, and green fig salad. If you're used to a saucy macaroni and cheese but want to try something new for your holiday menus, this version is the perfect way to bring Caribbean flavor to a classic American favorite.
What Makes Macaroni Pie Special
Jamaican, Trinidadian, Bajan, Guyanese and other Caribbean cuisines have slight variations on this recipe, and it varies from cook to cook, but the ingredients and method of cooking is similar. The macaroni, typically bucatini, is seasoned with pimento peppers, garlic, sometimes onions, dried seasonings, and whatever other additions the cook decides. Evaporated milk, ketchup, mustard, and lots of cheese is stirred in, then baked in a casserole until golden and firm. Once it’s done baking it should hold its shape when cut, even when right out of the oven. This firmness is a big part of what distinguishes macaroni pie from macaroni and cheese found outside of the Caribbean.
The Key Ingredients
- Cheese: Traditionally, Anchor New Zealand white cheddar is used for Trini macaroni pie. I’ve noticed this brand is hard to find in a typical US grocery store, but you can certainly buy it at West Indian markets, specialty cheese shops, and gourmet markets, as well as Whole Foods. Any extra sharp white cheddar will work perfectly in place. I’m using both Tillamook extra sharp white and yellow cheddar (for color) in this pie.
- Pimento peppers: These may not be the tiny canned bits of red pimento that you are used to. Local to Trinidad, pimentos are small peppers, found in shades of green, yellow, orange and red. They’re also called “seasoning peppers.” They lend a mildly spicy flavor to any dish, but without the heat. You can find pimento peppers at West Indian supermarkets, specialty markets, and some grocery stores. If you can’t find them, cubanelle peppers would be a good substitute here.
- Pasta: Bucatini is a popular choice for macaroni pie, but you can certainly use elbows. The idea is to choose a tubular pasta shape that will capture the seasonings and delicious sauce inside the noodle.
Macaroni Pie Variations
- Milk: Evaporated milk is commonly used in Caribbean cooking. We even love to use it in our coffee and tea! It’s convenient and gives a nice flavor to sweet and savory dishes such as macaroni pie. You can certainly use whole milk in place, but heavy cream is a little too rich for me since this pie already has a lot of cheese and eggs.
- Eggs: This is a “do as you please” kind of recipe so you can leave out the eggs, butI love to include them because they really hold everything together.
- Crunchy topping: Sometimes I also make a nice cracker or panko topping for extra texture.
- Green seasoning: I love to add a heaping tablespoon or two of Caribbean green seasoning to the macaroni while mixing. It gives it extra flavor. You can find out how to make green seasoning as part of the recipe in my Guyanese Chicken Curry.
If you're planning a big feast for the holidays and want to get a jump on things, you can prep and assemble this pie, refrigerate it, and bake it the next day.
More Caribbean Recipes for Celebrating
Trinidadian Macaroni Pie
Instead of grating the onion and garlic, you can chop them finely instead. I prefer to grate or puree them so they distribute evenly and flavor the macaroni better. I’m also not a fan of chewing pieces of onion in my macaroni pie.
If you cannot find Trinidadian pimento peppers, cubanelle peppers can work as a substitute. Otherwise, it is okay to omit them from the recipe.
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 pound bucatini or elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 (12-ounce) cans evaporated milk
3 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
2 teaspoons neutral cooking oil
3 pimento peppers, minced (see recipe note)
1/4 yellow onion, grated
3 large garlic cloves, grated on a microplane or pressed in a garlic press
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
2 eggs, beaten
8 ounces shredded extra sharp white cheddar cheese, divided
16 ounces shredded extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese, divided
- 9x12 or 9x13-inch baking dish
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Cook the pasta:
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta, stirring to loosen any clumps of pasta that stick together. Cook the pasta, stirring occasionally, according to the package directions.
Drain the pasta and return it to the same pot. Add the butter and toss until the butter is completely melted and the pasta is coated. Cover the pot with a lid and set aside off the heat as you continue to prep the remaining ingredients.
Make the milk mixture:
While the pasta cooks, whisk together the evaporated milk, eggs, ketchup, and mustard in a 4-cup measuring cup or medium bowl until combined. Set aside.
Cook the aromatics:
Heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and pimento peppers and sauté until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Add the aromatics to the pasta along. Season with the black pepper, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and cayenne pepper, if using. Mix thoroughly to ensure the seasonings distribute well throughout the pasta.
Pour the milk mixture over the pasta and give it a good stir. Add about 3/4 of the cheese, a little at a time. Continue to mix until all the cheese is mixed in (it does not have to be completely melted).
Transfer to a 9x12 of 9x13-inch baking dish or aluminum foil pan. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
I usually don't grease the dish for macaroni pie. When the fat from the cheese melts while cooking, it sort of greases the dish on its own.
Bake the pie:
Cover the baking dish or pan with a piece of aluminum foil. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking until it’s golden brown and bubbling on top, about another 20 minutes. If you’d like a dark golden crust, let it bake an additional 5-6 minutes. If you shake the pan gently, the macaroni should not jiggle.
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Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for 3-4 days. You can also freeze well-wrapped cut squares of macaroni pie.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 20 to 24|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 14g||18%|
|Saturated Fat 8g||39%|
|Total Carbohydrate 11g||4%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||2%|
|Total Sugars 4g|
|Vitamin C 3mg||13%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|