macaroni and cheese with ham and tomatoes

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Macaroni and Cheese with Ham and Tomatoes

By , from the Culinate Kitchen collection
Serves 6 to 8

Introduction

After my daughter was born, Culinate’s recipe editor, Carrie Floyd, brought us this dish for dinner one night. Nearly two years later, I finally got around to looking up the original recipe — from Amanda Hesser’s memoir Cooking for Mr. Latte — and decided to come up with my own version. It’s excellent on a cold winter weekend.

Ingredients

1 lb. dried short macaroni pasta, such as elbows, corkscrews, or shells
3 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups whole milk
12 oz. (1½ cups) grated or cubed Monterey Jack cheese (a blend of 8 ounces Colby Jack and 4 ounces Pepper Jack makes for a lightly spicy mac’n’cheese)
~ Freshly ground black pepper
1 can (14½ ounces) diced tomatoes
cups ham, cut into small cubes
1 cup coarse breadcrumbs, preferably homemade (see Note)
~ Fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced (optional)

Steps

  1. Cook the pasta: Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil, salt the water, and add the dried pasta. Cook until al dente, about 15 minutes, then drain. Put the cooked pasta in a large bowl and set it aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the pasta is cooking, use 1 tablespoon of the butter to grease a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish.
  3. Make the sauce: Put the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan and melt, over medium heat, until foamy. Whisk in the 2 tablespoons of flour, then slowly whisk in the milk. Whisking occasionally, bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring, until it starts to thicken. Add the cheese, stirring it in with a wooden spoon, until it starts to melt. Remove from the heat and continue stirring until the cheese has melted. Season with pepper to taste, then pour the sauce over the cooked pasta.
  4. Prep the tomatoes: Drain off the tomato juice from the can of tomatoes into a medium bowl. Pour the diced tomatoes into a sieve set over the bowl and press lightly to get the rest of the juice out. You should have about 1 cup of diced tomatoes remaining in the sieve. Add the tomatoes to the sauced pasta.
  5. Assemble and bake the dish: Add the cubed ham to the pasta mixture, then scrape the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Scatter the breadcrumbs evenly over the casserole, then bake for 25 minutes, until bubbling and lightly browned on top.
  6. Serve hot, with a dusting of minced parsley if you like.

Notes

Make your own breadcrumbs by ripping up stale bread into smaller chunks, then blitzing them in a food processor. Store breadcrumbs in the freezer until needed.

For a richer mac’n’cheese, use 1 cup milk and 1 cup cream instead of 2 cups milk.

If you want to use fresh tomatoes instead of canned, core and de-seed a few ripe tomatoes before dicing the remaining flesh. Put the diced tomatoes in a colander or sieve and gently press on them with the back of a spoon to force out any excess liquid.

You can swap out the ham in favor of canned tuna. Drain two cans (about 5 to 6 ounces) each of tuna (preferably from a sustainable fishery, such as the Oregon albacore fishery) and flake the meat. Add it to the pasta just before assembling and baking the dish.

This content is from the Culinate Kitchen collection.

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1. by anonymous on Dec 27, 2010 at 6:36 PM PST

meh. was pretty bad.

2. by Carrie Floyd on Jan 7, 2011 at 11:53 AM PST

Anonymous, I’m curious as to what made it pretty bad.

3. by anonymous on Jan 9, 2011 at 9:41 AM PST

OK, well the pasta, even cooked only about half as long (I don’t know what kind of pasta is still al dente after 15 min) came out as mush after baking. The cheese sauce all but disappeared, absorbed by the other ingredients, the tomatoes didn’t really work (bit of an identity crisis: am I a cheese or tomato dish?), there was about 4 times too many bread crumbs, which burned due to being on the dish the entire time and not covered.
Pretty bad was a lot simpler to say.

4. by Caroline Cummins on Apr 21, 2011 at 10:41 PM PDT

Anonymous: So sorry the dish didn’t work out for you. Perhaps your stovetop runs hot and cooks pasta quickly? It sounds like you prefer a mac’n’cheese that’s heavy on the cheese; if that’s the case, just make a cheesier, milkier sauce. The tomatoes (and the ham) are meant to be secondary to the macaroni, not in competition with it. As for the burned breadcrumbs, perhaps you used too small a baking dish in too hot an oven?

Of course, in the end, taste is always in the stomach of the eater. Better luck next time.

5. by Caroline Cummins on Apr 26, 2013 at 12:09 PM PDT

Also, Anonymous, the 15-minutes time frame is from the moment you add the pasta to the boiling water. There’s always a lag time then, as the water has to heat back up to a simmer. Depending on the size of your pot and the size of your pasta shape, it can take up to 15 minutes to cook the pasta, even to al dente.

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