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Herbed Tomato Crusted Mac and Cheese

Food Memories ~ The first food that I can remember is mac and cheese. I was only about three years old at the time and my mother told me that she would be working that evening. Which meant that my dad would be taking care of me and that meant only one thing ~ mac and cheese ~ You know that bright orange stuff that comes in a blue box? When my mom said she was working late, I remember being absolutely thrilled, but I knew even at that young age to hide my excitement or my Mom's feelings would be hurt. It's funny looking back at that - my  parents were so young at the time, they would have only been a couple of years older than my son is now. It's crazy how fast the years go by.

When I was growing up, my mom's version of mac and cheese always had tomatoes in it. She would mix a can of stewed tomatoes, a can of tomato soup and lots of Cheddar cheese into the cooked macaroni. As a kid I remember this being incredibly delicious, but when I have made the same thing as an adult, it just never tastes quite as good as I remember. It must have been missing that mother's touch.

I came up with this mac and cheese the other day, and I was  pretty impressed with the results. I made a basic cheese sauce and mixed that with the cooked pasta. I added a grated zucchini to the pasta sauce. Then I poured the whole thing into a greased casserole dish and topped it with sliced tomatoes and a herbed panko mixture. Wow! Was it ever good. The best part of the whole thing was the - wait for it - zucchini. The zucchini really brought the whole thing together, which is pretty strange considering that zucchini is not really the most flavourful ingredient. I mean - can you even describe the flavour of  zucchini? It's tough, right?

 Herbed Tomato Crusted Mac and Cheese

16 oz box small  pasta, I used rotini

Cheese sauce:
1/4 cup butter
1/2 small onion, minced
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 cups grated cheese, a combination of Mozza, Parmesan, Swiss and Provolone
pinch of grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
one medium zucchini, grated

1 large ripe tomato, sliced thinly
1/4 cup butter melted
1/2 cup panko ( Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 Tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 garlic clove, finely minced
extra cheese for topping

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water, three or four minutes less than the cooking time on box. Drain. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter, add onion and cook until softened. Add flour. Cook for one or two minutes. Whisk in the milk. Simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix in cheese, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Mix into cooked pasta. Add grated zucchini. Pour into greased, deep casserole dish. Top with sliced tomato. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Mix butter with panko, parsley and garlic. Sprinkle evenly over tomato slices. Sprinkle a little grated cheese on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Serves 6

Tags: Mac and Cheese, Main, Pasta

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