Friday, October 14, 2011

Lighter Macaroni & Cheese with Roasted Tomatoes

I was talking to my mom the other day, and she was telling me that they are absolutely getting a bumper crop of tomatoes off their 3 plants right now. It hasn't gotten cold enough there to kill off the plants yet, and the plants are churning out tomatoes like crazy. Sounds like my eggplant plants! 

I spotted this dish several months ago when Natalie posted it on her blog, Oven Love, but I think it is quite appropriate right now with the change in seasons. While it is a lighter take on macaroni and cheese, there is certainly enough cheese and carbohydrates in here to land it squarely in the comfort food category. The summer link comes through the tomatoes - just in case you have the same bumper crop that my parents do :)
It has been several weeks since we made this dish, and in looking through my pictures, I am thinking that I want to add it to the menu again soon!  Natalie suggests making it in individual ramekins, however I didn't have enough small ramekins for the entire dish, so I simply made it in a large casserole dish. In changing it to a larger dish, I would do 2 things differently next time. One, add more tomatoes. I love how roasting tomatoes brings out their flavor, and I definitely could have done with more tomatoes in here! Two, roast the tomatoes for a little longer. Since the tomato slices were only roasted in the oven for 20 minutes, they were still pretty soft.  I wouldn't want to take them all the way to "dried" tomatoes for this dish, but I think I would rather have them somewhere in the middle between soft and water and fully dried. This may fully be a personal preference, so I'll post the recipe below as written and let you decide. Enjoy!
(Printable Recipe)

Lighter Macaroni and Cheese with Roasted Tomatoes
Adapted from Oven Love and Martha Stewart

6 small vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into 24, 1/4-inch thick slices
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, plus extra for sprinkling
coarse salt and pepper
1/2-3/4 cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs
1 Tbsp. butter
1 lb. elbow macaroni (whole wheat if you'd like)
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
5 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
pinch nutmeg
pinch cayenne
1 tsp. ground mustard
2 cups milk (I used skim)
4 oz. (1-1/8 cup) reduced-fat (NOT non-fat) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 oz. (1-1/8 cup) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 oz (about 1/2 cup) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread tomatoes in a single layer on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle each sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon of thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until tomatoes have softened, about 20 minutes. Leave the oven on.

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and pasta to the water. Return to a boil and cook pasta until al dente (about 2-3 minutes less than called for on the box). Drain and run under cold water to stop cooking. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

Whisk 1/2 cup of stock into the flour in a medium bowl. Set aside. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in nutmeg, cayenne, ground mustard, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of thyme, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Add milk and remaining 1-1/2 cups of stock. Whisk in flour mixture. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Reduce to a simmer. Cook 8 minutes, whisking frequently. Add cheeses, cook, stirring until melted. Pour over macaroni and stir to combine. 

Arrange the tomato slices to cover the bottom of a large casserole dish. There should be a few slices left. Carefully pour the macaroni over the tomatoes. Top with any remaining tomato slices. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and thyme. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

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