Tomato Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

Tomato Macaroni and Cheese Recipe Recipe

My husband Lulu's little nieces from Oakland are staying with us for a week. I'm going to make their favorite dishes and we prepared a lot of fun activities so they have a memorable stay with us. This morning, we took several large baskets and they helped me pick fruits and vegetables for lunch. We gathered so many tomatoes, I decided to make tomato sauce to store for the winter. But as I was preparing mac and cheese for the children in the evening, I changed my mind and added the tomato sauce to a modified version of the kid-friendly dish. 

I spread a layer of tomato sauce at the bottom of the dish and also flavored the béchamel sauce with fire-roasted tomatoes. They impart a light sweetness and pleasant tanginess that complements the flavors of the cheese and sauce very well. So not only did I coerce the kids into going outside to do a physical activity, I also snuck some veggies into a dish they can’t resist. Pham Fatale indeed!

Ingredients

Yields: 8 servings

1 (16-ounce) package fusilli pasta, cooked
4 pounds tomatoes (various types)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 onion, finely chopped
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
3 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup sweet basil leaves, chopped
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
4½ cups milk, warmed for 2 minutes in the microwave
½ teaspoon white pepper, freshly ground
½ cup Monterey Jack cheese, freshly grated
½ cup sharp yellow Cheddar cheese, freshly grated
1 cup mozzarella cheese, freshly grated
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, + extra when serving


Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Fire-roasted tomatoes: 

Using a metal skewer, create a hole through the tomato starting from the stem.

Thread 1½ pounds tomatoes onto metal skewers. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons minced garli and the thym; drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange the skewers on a tray on a hot grill for about a minute on each side until slightly browned and caramelized. Transfer the tray to the highest grill, away from high heat and let roast for 10 minutes. Let cool a little.

Remove and discard the skin and coarsely chop.

Making the tomato sauce:

Heat about 2 tablespoons oil in a large pan. Add the remaining garlic and cook until golden. Transfer to a plate. Add half the onion and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the onion from burning, until the color is evenly golden brown. Transfer to a plate.

Add more oil if necessary. Add the rest of the tomatoes. Season with salt and red chili flakes. Add the onion, garlic and tomato paste. Lower the heat and let the flavors blend, stirring frequently. Add basil. Cover and let it sit for about 15 minutes. Discard any visible tomato skin.

For the fusilli pasta: Cook according to package instructions. When the pasta is cooked (cooked inside and out but still in shape and firm), reserve about ⅓ cup to ½ cup of pasta water and drain the pasta (do NOT rinse) into a large colander. Season with a little salt.

For the béchamel sauce:

In a saucepan, melt 8 tablespoons of butter over medium-low; you don't want the butter to burn. Bring the heat back up to medium-high (the butter should be hot and golden) and add the flour. Keep stirring manually with a whisk for approximately 3 minutes. The flour should absorb the butter and form a paste. Stir well until incorporated and add the milk in 3 stages. Increase the heat while constantly stirring for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat off. Add the cheeses (except Parmesan cheese and ½ cup mozzarella cheese). Mix well. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Let the sauce rest until it's time to assemble the dish.

Assembly time:

When you're ready to assemble, add the chopped fire-toasted tomatoes to the sauce. 

In a large non-stick pan, heat some olive oil. Add the remaining onion and cook until golden and fragrant. Add the cooked pasta and toss for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the béchamel sauce. Mix until the pasta is well coated.

Grease a large baking dish with the remaining butter (for easy clean up). Pour the tomato sauce into the bottom of the dish. Fill with pasta. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese on top. Dot with little pieces of butter.

Place in the oven for at least 10 minutes (until golden crispy brown) and broil for about 2-3 minutes to get a nice golden crust if necessary.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes.

Bon appétit!


Tips

I used a wide variety of cheeses; you could use other cheeses such as goat cheese, Gruyère, Asiago, Munster or even blue cheese.

To make béchamel sauce, I always start with all the ingredients at the same temperature, so make sure to heat the milk in the microwave for about 2 minutes (or in a saucepan), so it's warm. If you get lumpy pieces in the sauce, don't hesitate to use a hand blender.

Check out my other gratins. And If you're a pasta lover, check out my other pasta dishes.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on July 18, 2012.


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