Introducing a grown-up mac and cheese. Filled with plum tomatoes, aged cheddar cheese and fresh thyme, this one's NOT for the kids.
by Lindsay Evans
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In many a household mac and cheese is a much-loved staple. The version that I grew up with was made with a combo of old-school velveeta and grated orange cheddar, and piled high with a breadcrumb mixture (that turned incredibly crunchy once baked). But want to know one of our pet peeves? Sometimes it feels like mac and cheese is all about the kids. Turn up to a kid-friendly dinner party? It's mac and cheese for the kids. Out at a family-style restaurant? Mac and cheese is the star on the kids menu.
Enter our grown-up tomato mac and cheese, filled with chopped plum tomatoes, aged cheddar cheese and fresh thyme. Kids may turn their nose up at these bold flavours. And we're good with that. They can have our no-fuss mac and cheese instead. Top your version with Japanese-style Panko breadcrumbs and you've got yourself a dish that will make any adult swoon.
500 g pkg dried macaroni pasta (or any small pasta shape you like)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat panko-style bread crumbs
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp freshly chopped thyme, divided
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for dish
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
3 1/2 cups grated sharp (extra-old) white cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup reserved for topping
1 cup canned or boxed diced tomatoes
2 tsp sea salt
1/2 to 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Butter a 9 x 13 in (3 L) casserole dish, and set aside. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions, until al dente. Transfer to a colander, rinse under cold water, and drain well.
To make topping: Combine panko, Parmesan, 1 tbsp thyme and salt in a medium bowl. Drizzle with your melted butter. Using a fork, mix until very well combined. Set aside.
To make sauce: Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until bubbly but not brown, about 1 minute. Very slowly whisk in milk. Bring to a simmer and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until thickened, about 4 minutes. Add 3 cups cheddar cheese, stirring until completely melted and sauce is smooth, 1–2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes (with juices), remaining 1 tbsp thyme, salt and pepper. Add reserved pasta to this pot and stir to combine.
Pour into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the reserved 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, then top with the bread crumb mixture.
Bake until sauce is bubbling around the edges and the top is golden, 25–30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.