Macaroni cheese in a July heatwave! Yes I am nuts but here goes!
Jamie Oliver is a genius. For some time, I've been trying to find a healthier version of mac'n'cheese, that would still meet the requirements of my older daughter. I think we're finally getting somewhere. I know it may not seem like mac 'n' cheese weather; it's been a scorchy hot week here in the northeast, but the request was made and so I grinned and bore the heat (and turned the AC on!).
I have never seen my daughter eat so much food, as she did on a rare eating out venture to our local diner. She ordered mac 'n' cheese and devoured the most enormous amount. Don't get me wrong; I love to see my kids enjoy their food; but this was "out of a box" mac 'n' cheese. Honestly, I have been a little offended she has never quite matched that "competition winning scoff" with any food that I've cooked her. She still talks about it every day we drive past there.
Anyway, I don't know why I hadn't reached for one of my Jamie books on this topic before. He's excellent at a re-work of a simple recipe, just giving it a bit more interest and flavor. So his secret; using the food processor, puree fresh tomatoes, anchovies and sundried tomatoes. His recipe uses light cream but I just used 1% milk and it turned out rich enough for us. Those hidden extras really give a depth of flavor which makes me as an adult enjoy mac 'n' cheese without all that clawing, thick, gloopy, heavy, too rich sauce. Most importantly, the tomatoes make the sauce orange; a critical requirement if its to pass the kid test.
Finally, I didn't call it macaroni cheese (to my kids). In fact, I didn't use macaroni; I had some nice curly wurly pasta which I thought would work even better at getting the sauce in every nook and cranny. I find that if I pigeon hole a meal by a name, often it is rejected outright, before giving a chance. So, I generally think on my feet as I place the plate before them. This one I just called cheesy pasta.
I know it was a hit because my older daughter asked if I could make it "3 times every week". My younger just pronounced it her "favorite".
Healthier Macaroni Cheese
(adapted from Jamie Oliver; Jamie's Dinners. Tomato Macaroni Cheese)
12oz box macaroni (or "curly wurly" pasta as I used)
approx 7oz wholewheat breadcrumbs
1 lb fresh tomatoes (I used sweet cherry tomatoes)
1 glove garlic, peeled
2 large handfuls of fresh basil
4 oz sundried tomatoes, chopped,
salt and pepper
2 cups grated Parmesan
2 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
8 oz fresh mozzarella, chopped into small cubes
1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves
- Preheat your oven to 400°F, 200°C
- Cook the pasta until al dente; drain, but save a ladleful of the cooking water.
- Using the food processor, blend the tomatoes, garlic, basil, sundried tomatoes and anchovies for appox 30 seconds.
- Add the milk, vinegar, and 1 cup of the Parmesan
- Blend until smooth and the season to your taste.
- pour the sauce from the food processor over the drained pasta.
- Add a little of the reserved cooking water in order to make the dish quite loose.
- Pour the whole lot into a lightly greased baking dish and push the mozzarella cubes gently into the top.
- Mix the breadcrumbs, thyme and remaining cheese, then sprinkle over the top of the casserole.
- Drizzle a little olive oil over the top to get a lovely crunchy top
- Place in the oven for approx 15 minutes or until bubbling and crunchy on top