Tomato Mac & Cheese

Mac and Cheese in our house, typically means a blue box.  It's a quick meal for those nights we are short on time, or I just don't have it in me to make something.  J & I tend to save the real deal M&C for restuarant outings.  Correction.  We use to save it for restaurant outings.  Oh, how times are changing...

I'm fairly confident J & the kids would live off of KD if I would let them, and there was a time that I too could be included in that group (provided you had hot dogs for me to mix in.)  However, since being introduced to what real M&C tastes like, it's hard for me to go back.   I guess it would be like having filet mignon vs. a skirt steak.  It's all about quality.
Having never attempted a homemade mac and cheese before, I needed a jumping off point.  So, where to begin?  The most important element: Cheese, of course!  Since this was my first try at it, I was going to keep it classic.  Sharp cheddar.  Of course there are other ways to inject some personality into any dish.  Today, the lucky winner is the pint of grape tomatoes in my fridge.  A perfect balance for the richness of this dish, yum.  Last but crucial, is the addition of a crumb topping.  Crisp panko breadcrumbs finish this dish off.  Crunchy, golden brown crumbs, mixed in with bubbly baked cheese.  Yep, that's what it's all about!  This is comfort food, period.  Pass me a fork!

Tomato Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese:
1/4 cup butter
2 cups uncooked macaroni
4 tablespoons minced onion
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 tablespoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 cups milk
2 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar, divided
1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
salt & pepper

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup panko breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350F.  Lightly butter 6 ramekins and place on cookie sheet***
Bring large pot of water to boil.  Add pasta and cook until al dente.  Drain and set aside.
Melt butter in saucepan, over medium heat.  Add onion and cook till transluncent.  Add flour, salt, mustard and paprika; mix well.  Stir in milk and cook until thickened, approximately 5 minutes.  Add 2 cups of shredded cheese and stir until melted.  Add cooked macaroni and mix well.  Divide between 6 prepared ramekins.  Sprinkle tomatoes, among dishes and season with salt and pepper.  Top with remaining cheese.
To make topping, melt butter in non-stick pan and toss bread crumbs to coat.  Top macaroni with crumbs.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.
***alternatively, the original recipe is prepared in a 13 by 9 by 2 - inch baking dish.  and baked at 375F for 30-35 minutes

Now that I have a base for Mac & Cheese, I'm going to experiment with different types of cheeses and fillers....Hmmm.  Lobster, bacon, mexican,  gruyere, blue cheese....endless options! 
(slightly adapted from Paula Deen)


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