In Finland, macaroni and cheese, or macaroni casserole, as it is called here, is a traditional everyday dish containing pasta and cooked ground beef. Served with ketchup, it is especially liked by most kids.
However, in the traditional version of this dish no cheese is used and a mixture of milk and eggs is used as a binding ingredient, giving the dish a wobbly, separated custard-like consistency, making it taste and feel truly disgusting.
To give this dish a smooth, creamy consistency and a stronger flavour, I use processed and fresh cheese combined with stock instead of the milk and egg mixture.
about 250 ml macaroni or other mini-sized pasta shapes
250-300 g ground lean beef
white or black pepper
250 ml beef or chicken stock
125 g good-quality processed cheese (preferably Finnish strong Koskenlaskija) or cream cheese (eg Philadelphia)
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
grated flavourful cheese (eg Gruyère, Emmental, Gouda)
Cook the macaroni (or other pasta) according to the instructions on the package, but leave it just slightly underdone. Drain the pasta in a colander and briefly rinse it with cold running water to prevent it from sticking. Set aside.
Warm a frying pan until hot, add some butter and the crumbled ground meat. Stir and cook the meat on high heat until it is cooked and all the moisture has evaporated. Season the meat with some pepper, onion powder and paprika powder, or with whatever spices you might like (garlic, herbs, chilli etc). Stir the meat into the cooked pasta and pour the mixture into a buttered (round) oven pan/casserole dish (Ø about 20 centimetres).
In a small saucepan, bring the stock to the boil. Remove the pan from heat and add the processed cheese (or cream cheese). If using firm cheese, add it cut in small cubes, if soft cheese, add it in little dollops.
Without stirring, let the cheese melt. Then stir the mixture until smooth — it does not matter, if some small lumps remain, they will melt and incorporate later during baking in the oven. Stir some grated Parmesan cheese in the stock as well and pour the mixture over the macaroni and meat in the pan.
Sprinkle the top generously with grated cheese (Gruyère, Emmental, Gouda) and dot the surface with pats of butter. Bake the casserole on the bottom rack of the oven at 175 - 180 °C for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the macaroni have absorbed most of the liquid and the top is golden brown. Be careful not to bake the dish for too long, or it will come out too dry.
Serve the macaroni casserole with some fresh salad on the side — and in the Finnish way with some ketchup, if you like.