June 25, 2013

Recipes: Tomato Mac'n'Cheese


You know (if you've been reading for long) that I love the lazy form of mac'n'cheese: throw some very sharp cheddar in a pot of barely drained pasta, with a splash of milk and a knob of butter (explained in greater detail here, but really, that's about it). I love this because it can be thrown together whenever the craving hits. And most especially, it can be thrown together when it is nine million degrees outside, and even if you had air conditioning (which I don't) you'd not want to turn on your oven.

Still, sometimes you need baked macaroni and cheese. And sometimes you need tomato mac'n'cheese. And sometimes you have 20 different scraps of cheese and three quickly spoiling tomatoes left over from weekend sales at the shop you work at. And that's when you make baked mac'n'cheese with tomatoes.


TOMATO MAC'N'CHEESE

1 pound small knobby pasta (I used fusili, clearly macaroni or shells are best)
8 oz stewed/diced tomatoes (homemade? from the store? either works.)
3 tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
1.5 cups sharp cheddar, shredded
1.5 cups extra sharp cheddar, shredded
6 tablespoon butter (plus extra for pan)
1 small onion finely diced
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Butter a large baking dish. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water, till al dente. Drain quickly (you don't want the pasta to be super dry, but to retain some of the wonderfully starchy cooking liquid). After draining, immediately return to the pot, and stir in the stewed tomatoes/juices, and the diced fresh tomatoes. According to Cooks Country this means the tomatoes will get soaked into the pasta, making a better tomato flavor.

While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a saucepan, and saute the onions. Add the flour, paprika, mustard, and stir to make a roux. Then add the milk, and let it thicken (stirring occasionally). It takes about 5 minutes. Throw in 2.5 cups of the cheese, and stir quickly to incorporate, and melt the cheese.

Dump (such charming words I'm using today) the cheese sauce into the pot of drained/tomatoed pasta, and stir thoroughly. Pour into your prepared baking dish, and top with remaining cheese, and the freshly ground pepper. (I also topped mine with sauteed garlic chives.)

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30-45 minutes. (This really depends on the dish you use, and how crispy you like it. I like it in a big wide dish, with nice crispy bottom. Since the macaroni is less deep in a wider pan, it takes a little less time. A smaller pan means a denser casserole, which means it takes longer to cook entirely.)

A NOTE ABOUT CHEESE:

Guys, the cheese is the whole point here so use good stuff. I happened to use very very good stuff, because we had a cheese tasting at the shop, and I took home all the scraps. The combination doesn't matter so much as the quality of the cheeses. Don't get pre-grated cheddar (even from a TJs that stuff is inferior quality). And if you feel like it, experiment with a few other cheeses. I put in some aged gouda (for rich, nutty notes). Good swiss (or comte, if you want to be all fancy) adds some delicate floral notes (which is lovely with a generous helping of herbs). Mozzarella and fontinas are super-melty and luxurious. And if you use a cheddar use sharp sharp sharp cheese with a bit of regular ol' sharp cheddar to mellow it out a bit (as directed above).


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