True confession: growing up, mac and cheese in our house was Kraft Dinner, y’know, in the blue box. Nothing against my mom, who was a pretty awesome cook, but, well, it was Kraft Dinner, it was cheap, easy, and it was the 60’s and 70’s, so…
I never really expected much different from mac and cheese than that.
So, while looking through a recipe box loaded with cards from the 70’s, I was a struck by this one, baked mac and cheese casserole with tomatoes on top.
Could be a nice, vegetarian dinner, with the added goodness of tomatoes. Or…
It could be all that was wrong with the 70’s – from avocado green appliances to indoor/outdoor carpet and flocked wallpaper. There was only one way to tell.
I needed to try it.
Of course, I also needed to bring it into the 21st century; swapping out one large, sliced tomato for quartered grape tomatoes tossed with chopped basil. I also added a bit more seasoning than originally called for and, while the macaroni did come in a big blue box, it was not from the nice folk at Kraft.
All in all, I can safely say that this is my new fave mac and cheese, and it may very well soon be yours, too. Try it and see.
•8 oz elbow macaroni
•1/4 cup unsalted butter
•2 tbsp flour
•2 tbsp Ranch dressing mix
•1 tsp Seasoned Salt
•1/2 tsp black pepper
•1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
•1 tbsp Sherry Peppers Sauce*
•2 cups half and half
•1 tsp fave hot sauce
•2 cups Cheddar cheese, grated
•1 cup diced grape tomatoes
*No Sherry Peppers Sauce? No Problem! Simply add a bit of decent sherry (none of that “cooking” stuff) and a dash or three of your fave hot sauce, to taste.
Cook the pasta according to package directions, then drain, rinse, and set aside.
Heat your oven to 375º and apply cooking spray to a two quart shallow casserole.
Melt the butter in a large pan, then stir in the flour, ranch seasoning, seasoned salt, and peppers.
Cook, stirring constantly, for two minutes, until everything has come together in a dark, kinda clumpy roux.
Gradually whisk in the half and half – like mebbe 1/4 of a cup at a time – whisking until the mixture is smooth before adding more.
Stir in the Sherry Peppers Sauce and, what the heck – add that bit o’ hot sauce, too – there is a lot of pasta and cheese to add some flavor to!
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for a minute or so, until the mixture has thickened nicely.
Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked macaroni and 1-1/2 cups of the shredded cheese. Transfer to the prepared shallow baking dish.
Note: another change from the 70’s: I used a bag of shredded, 4 Cheddar cheese blend.
Toss the chopped tomatoes with the basil and arrange over the top of the macaroni.
Scatter the remaining cheese over the tomatoes and pop into the oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes, until the cheese is nicely golden browned and the casserole is heated through.
Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for ten minutes before serving.
This was pretty frikkin’ spectacular, and will now be served pretty darned often around about these parts.
Try it yourself and see if you don’t agree.