When it comes to recipes we all have our family favourites. By that, I mean recipes which are as integral to the fabric of our families as the colour of our eyes or the way we feel about each other. Family favourite recipes speak of love and comfort and hope. That is the way my family feels about this recipe I am sharing today. It is quite simply a part of “Us”, and I think it is so delicious that it is destined to become a part of “You” too.
Macaroni and Cheese with Tomatoes is one of those recipes that quickly becomes a standby recipe. A tried and true. My oldest daughter and her husband make this a part of their meal rotation every week, that is how much it is beloved. And no small wonder. It is simple. It is easy. It is delicious. It is economical. What more could you ask for!
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO MAKE MACARONI & CHEESE WITH TOMATOES
I am fairly confident that you have everything you need to make this delicious casserole recipe in your kitchen right now. There is nothing out of the ordinary called for. That is the beauty of recipes such as this one. Simple ingredients done well.
|Elbow macaroni (you can use other kinds of pasta, but I think elbow works and looks the best)|
|A 14-oz tin of chopped Italian tomatoes in tomato juice|
|Single cream or half and half|
|Mild cheddar cheese, grated|
|Sharp cheddar cheese, grated|
|Buttered cracker crumbs to top|
HINTS AND TIPS FOR SUCCESS
- Read through the recipe several times before cooking and have all of your ingredients ready as well as any equipment needed. A few minutes in preparation in this way go a long ways towards preventing mistakes later on.
- I recommend using elbow macaroni. It has the perfect shape and size for this casserole. The holes on either end also mean that it will “grip” the sauce.
- You need to use chopped tomatoes in tomato juice. This type of tomato adds to the richness of the dish and is what gives it that “comfort food” touch. You will not be draining them, so the tomato juice is an integral part of its flavour.
- You want to melt the butter over medium heat. Do not add the flour until the butter begins to foam. If you start on a higher temperature you run the risk of your butter burning.
- Once you have whisked in the flour, do let it cook, whisking it continuously for about a minute at the very least to cook out the flour taste. This mixture is called a Roux.
- You will need to whisk together your milk, stock and cream prior to adding it to the Roux.
- Add your liquids slowly to the Roux, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps from forming, again over medium heat.
- Continue to whisk and cook this mixture until it thickens and comes to a boil. Do not be tempted to rush it. If you rush it you run the risk of scorching the bottom of the sauce which will ruin the flavour entirely. Slow and steady always wins the race here. Also the sauce is less likely to catch on the bottom if you whisk it the entire time it is cooking.
- Make sure you cook your macaroni al dente, which means it is just shy of being totally cooked and will have a bit of a bite. You do this because you will be returning it to the pot and adding the undrained tomatoes to it after cooking. It will be absorbing the juices from the tomatoes as well as the sauce as it bakes in the oven. Cooking it al dente now prevents it from becoming mushy later.
- Always grate your own cheeses if you can. The manufacturers add things to already grated cheese to help it flow better and more loosely. You do not want these things in your sauce.
- Always taste as you are adding seasoning to the dish. This is the only way to prevent having too little or too much. If in doubt I always err on the side of having less. More can always be added at the table.
- I always set my casseroles on baking sheets before sliding them into the oven. This means that if they should overflow, the overflow lands on the baking sheet and not my oven base, which makes for an easier clean up. It also makes it a lot easier to slide the casserole in and out of the oven.
HOW TO COOK MACARONI & CHEESE WITH TOMATOES
You need to begin by preheating your oven. I bake this at a medium high temperature of 400*F. Butter your baking dish and set it aside.
Cook your macaroni al dente according to the package directions. Drain it well over the sink and then return it to the saucepan you cooked it in. Stir in the undrained tomatoes, stirring everything together to coat. Heat this mixture gently over low heat until most of the liquid from the tomatoes has been absorbed by the macaroni. Set aside.
I use two kinds of cheese for this recipe. Both a mild and a sharp cheddar will give you the best flavour. I also mix dyed and undyed cheeses. This is a personal preference. You may be happy with all dyed or all white. It is your choice. I always grate my own cheese. Its not a hard thing to do and it is actually cheaper than buying pre-grated. It does not take a lot of time. I use my box grater for his, but a food processor also works well.
To make the sauce, begin by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. As soon as the butter begins to foam, whisk in the flour and cayenne pepper. Allow this to cook for a minute, stirring it constantly, before whisking in the liquid ingredients for the sauce.
Bring to the boil, whisking continuously, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer. Cook for several minutes longer, continuing to whisk and stir until the mixture cooks out the flour taste and thickens nicely. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the cheeses. Whisk them into the sauce, allowing them to melt and amalgamate into a smooth, lump free sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning as required with salt and pepper.
Pour the thickened and seasoned sauce over the macaroni and tomato mixture. Gently stir everything together to combine and then pour the mixture into your prepared baking dish.
Melt a knob of butter and then stir in a handful of crushed cracker crumbs. How many you crust depends on you. I add a moderate amount. Sprinkle the buttered cracker crumbs evenly over the top of the casserole. Place the casserole onto a baking sheet and slide it into your preheated oven.
Bake the casserole for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven until bubbling around the edges and the crumb topping begins to become golden brown. Do not let the crumb topping burn. Remove it from the oven and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH MACARONI & CHEESE WITH TOMATOES
This is meant to be a meatless casserole. You could brown off some ground beef and add it along with the tomatoes, but it really is not necessary. This is delicious just the way it is. Keeping it simple means you can go a bit crazy with what you choose to serve with it.
First of all I would make a delicious salad to enjoy on the side. A mix of lettuces, sliced scallions, chopped tomatoes and cucumber, sliced radishes and a tangy vinaigrette dressing are perfect. You want a light salad. You could also add some sliced olives and croutons to the top if you wanted to.
A crusty bread goes really well. It is perfect for mopping up all of that delicious sauce. You will not want to miss any of that! It really is incredible. If you really want to push the boat out you could bake some crescent rolls or baking powder biscuits to serve along with this. My family has always loved this with a bit of bread on the side, be it biscuit or crusty.
One plus about this casserole is that you can make it up ahead of time (up to two days) and then pop it into the refrigerator, covered. When you are ready to bake it, simply pop it onto your baking sheet and cover it with foil. Bake it for half an hour, then uncover and bake for a further fifteen minutes until done.
This casserole is rich and delicious. It may not be the lightest casserole around, but it is surely one of the tastiest. To me, this spells Comfort with a capital “C.”
- ½ pound of dry macaroni (8 ounces)
- 1 (14 ½) ounce tin of chopped plum tomatoes in tomato juice, undrained
- 3 TBS butter
- 4 TBS all-purpose flour
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 ½ cups of semi skimmed milk
- ½ cup of single cream or half and half
- ½ cup chicken broth
- 2 cups of grated mild cheddar cheese
- 1 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- A knob of butter (about ½ TBS)
- And handful of crushed cracker crumbs
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to the boil. Cook the macaroni in it according to package directions, just until al dente, usually about 6 minutes. Drain well and return to the saucepan.
- Stir in the tin of tomatoes, stirring everything together to coat. Heat gently over low heat until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Set aside.
- Melt the 3 TBS of butter in another saucepan. Whisk in the flour until smooth.
- Add the cayenne pepper. Cook and stir for about a minute.
- Stir together the milk, cream and chicken broth. Whisk this mixture slowly into the flour/butter mixture, whisking constantly.
- Cook over medium heat until the mixture boils and thickens, stirring constantly. Cook for a few more minutes, then remove from the heat.
- Stir in the cheeses to melt. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour this sauce over the macaroni and tomato mixture and combine both together.
- Butter a 9 inch square baking dish. Preheat the oven to 400*F. Pour the macaroni mixture into the buttered baking dish, smoothing over the top.
- Melt the knob of butter and add the cracker crumbs. Sprinkle over top of the macaroni. Place the baking dish on top of a baking tray.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
You can make this ahead if you wish. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. When ready to bake, cover the top with aluminium foil and bake for 30 minutes, uncover and bake for a further 15 minutes.
Marie Rayner is a retired Chef, freelance writer, recipe developer, food blogger, and Cookbook author. She makes her home in Chester, UK, where she lives with her husband, Todd, and their much beloved English Cocker, Mitzie. Her motto is “Life is far too short to eat bad food,” and her goal is to share delicious and easy recipes which anyone can enjoy and cook in the comfort of their own home.