I never realized just how much processed food we ate when I was growing up. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned you can make fried chicken at home! And homemade macaroni and cheese? Why would you do yourself what Kraft seems to have perfected?
Since I am mostly self-taught in the kitchen, it’s take many years before I’ve attempted what is actually a very simple dish. I also have an aversion to baked pasta, so I wasn’t entirely convinced this would come out tasty.
Now, my husband, when relating the story of his mom’s baked mac and cheese with stewed tomatoes to me, made it very clear that this was his LEAST favorite meal that she made. In fact, he hates it. With a passion. It makes him gag to even think of it. Yet another reason I put off making my own version. But I finally decided to try it and I’ve been making it for a few years now, a little differently each time, trying to find just the right balance of ingredients. I think I’ve hit upon perfection.
Of course, everyone’s perfection is different, so my advice is to take any recipe you find and play with it until you find just the right combination. Improvise, substitute—that’s the fun in cooking. Anybody can read and follow a recipe, but a true artist puts their own touch on things.
(This is why I don’t like baking—it’s such a delicate balance of ingredients that is downright scientific, that there isn’t much room to improvise or substitute. I also nearly failed chemistry in school, and I firmly believe that has had a bearing on my lack of baking prowess.)
This recipe has tomatoes and my husband loves it! The trick? I used fresh cherry tomatoes, not canned and certainly not stewed. My children also happen to love tomatoes, so this was a nice addition for them. If tomatoes aren’t your thing, try broccoli or kale (you’d have to wilt that first in a sautee pan to get tenderize it). Or tuna for a lovely tuna-mac casserole. Or just eat it plain!
So here is my recipe. Try it and tell me what you think! If you added your own spin to it, I would love to hear about it in the comments.
Lynn’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Tomatoes
(Serves 6 with leftovers)
2lbs elbow macaroni (or sea shells or corkscrew pasta)
4 TBS butter, divided (2TBS + 2TBS melted)
2 TBS flour
1/4 C white wine
1 C Gruyere, shredded*
1 C Emmenthaler, shredded*
2 C Sharp cheddar, shredded*
1/2 C milk
Seasonings (nearly any of your favorites will work)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved and seeded
1-2 C Goldfish crackers or Ritz, crushed
- Preheat oven to 400º. Grease a 4qt casserole dish. Boil pasta according to directions until al dente. Drain and set aside.
- Melt 2 TBS butter in a medium-sized saucepan over low to medium heat. Add flour and stir quickly to make a roux. Add the wine, mix until smooth and flour has browned.
- Add the cheese in one cup at a time, cheddar last, mixing until it is melted before you add the next cup. Once you add the cheddar, begin adding the milk, a little at a time to make it smooth. If it is too thick, add a little more milk, continually whisking to keep the cheese sauce from burning. Once your sauce is smooth and melted, remove from the heat. It should be creamy, but not too thick. Add more milk if it is too thick.
- Gently fold the tomatoes into the macaroni. Add the cheese sauce and seasoning and mix well.
- Spoon mixture into baking dish. Mix the melted butter with crackers and dot along the top.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cracker topping is golden brown and crispy.
*You can use whatever cheese you like. I like the Gruyere and Emmenthaler because they melt smoothly, like fondue. The sharp cheddar adds a bite to the milder cheeses. You could easily make this an Italian-inspired dish with basil, oregano, parmesan, asiago, and fontina cheeses. Or Mexican, with pepper-jack and colby and chili powder. Experiment and enjoy!