When thinking about comfort food, creamy, cheesy macaroni and cheese is probably one of the first things that comes to mind. As kids, we would have been perfectly content to exist on mac and cheese alone, if our moms had only let us. Even as adults, we still love that favorite food from our childhood. With slightly more adventurous palates now, we may be willing to stray away from the norm and try a slightly more sophisticated version of good, old-fashioned mac and cheese.
Homemade macaroni and cheese is really a cinch to make. It starts by making a simple white sauce, also known as béchamel. From there, cheese is added transforming the béchamel into a Mornay sauce. After the pasta is added, the whole thing is baked, and voila – homemade mac and cheese.
Speaking of cheese, cheddar is a popular choice for this beloved casserole, but it certainly is not the only option. Just about any favorite cheese will work, but the sharper it is, the more flavor it will give the sauce. Experiment with a variety of cheeses. Reasor’s carries a good variety in both the specialty cheese case and in the refrigerated section with the rest of the cheese.
For added flavor and texture, toppings can be added to ordinary mac and cheese to make it magnificent. Veggies, crushed tortilla chips, breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese all work well.
Since tomatoes and cheese are such a natural combination, they pair well together in the following recipe. Buttered breadcrumbs mixed with a touch of Parmesan cheese makes a nice, slightly crunchy topping.
Even if the cheese sauce is flavorful, the pasta needs seasoning too. Be sure to add a good tablespoon of salt to the boiling pasta water. Since the macaroni is going to continue cooking in the oven, be sure to undercook it slightly when boiling it.
Creamy Macaroni and Cheese with Tomatoes
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups half and half
- 1 stick butter, plus 2 tablespoons
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon dried mustard
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
- 2 cups shredded white cheddar
- Pinch of salt and white pepper
- 1 (12 oz.) bag large elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
- 2-3 large tomatoes, cut into ½ slices
- Bread crumbs from 6 slices of white bread with crusts removed
- 1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400. Lightly grease a 13×9 inch baking dish.
In a large saucepan, combine milk and half and half. Heat over medium-low heat until warmed through, stirring occasionally. Keep warm until needed.
In a Dutch oven or other large pot, melt the butter over medium heat; whisk in flour. Continue cooking for a couple of minutes to cook raw taste out of flour. Add smoked paprika and mustard, whisk to combine.
Gradually add warmed milk mixture, whisking until smooth. Cook until thickened and bubbly, whisking constantly. Add both cheddars and stir until melted. Add macaroni and stir to combine.
Pour into prepared baking dish. Arrange tomato slices over mac and cheese.
Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. In a small bowl, combine melted butter, breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese; mix well. Sprinkle evenly over tomatoes.
Bake for 30 minutes or until bubbly.
Makes 6 servings