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The term macaroni casserole can be used to describe a traditional Finnish and Scandinavian dish as well as a variety of casseroles that contain macaroni pasta as a main ingredient. The traditional northern European macaroni casserole typically includes eggs and milk as binding ingredients along with some type of meat for protein. The types of meat used in a traditional casserole vary according to cultural preference. Other types of macaroni casseroles, such as those consumed in the United States, may include a variety of ingredients, sometimes reflecting ethnic influences. Macaroni casseroles that include some type of meat are often consumed as a main dish for either lunch or dinner, while those that lack meat as an ingredient may instead be treated as a starchy side dish.
The macaroni casserole has a strong presence among traditional Finnish dishes and is known as makaronilaatikko. Sometimes known as Finnish macaroni and cheese, according to some sources the original makaronilaatikko did not contain any cheese or meat and primarily consisted of macaroni noodles, eggs, and milk. This dish was then baked, essentially creating a pasta-custard. Finnish macaroni casserole now often contains both ground beef and cheese. The Swedish version of this dish is called makaronipudding and may include the additions of cheese, leeks, and diced ham. The dish is then served with ketchup for dipping.
In other countries, including the United States, macaroni pasta is a common ingredient in various casserole dishes for several reasons, including the fact that it holds sauce well and is easy to spear with a fork. Many who live in the United States enjoy the traditional baked macaroni and cheese which typically consists of macaroni blended and baked with milk, butter and cheese. In some cases, makers of these casseroles will, as Finns and Scandinavians do, add different types of meat to the macaroni and cheese mixture.
A very common type of macaroni casserole in the United States is tuna casserole, which often combines tuna with canned soup, cheese, and sometimes other vegetables. Crushed breadcrumbs or potato chips are then sprinkled on top of the casserole, which is then baked. Another traditional macaroni casserole in the United States is American chop suey, which is actually influenced far more by Italian cuisine than Chinese. American chop suey is typically made of cooked macaroni noodles, tomato sauce, and ground meat. These ingredients are combined in a casserole dish that is baked until the ingredients are cooked through.