What do Jews do in Phoenix on Christmas? Barbeque! Unless you want Chinese food, there will be no going out. Plus, I’m here visiting my baby niece, and a barbeque was a nice opportunity for everyone to see her, and give her lots of kisses. You would want to give her kisses, too, if given such a golden opportunity. My psycho-cooker-contribution to the occasion was macaroni and cheese. Mac and cheese is always a welcome contribution to a barbeque, and this is not just any mac and cheese. It is a very special one with tomatoes, that also happens to be ultra-delish, and has the added bonus of consisting of six ingredients, including salt and pepper. I have been making it for years, and it always receives rave reviews.
I adapted it from a recipe in Joan Schwartz’s macaroni and cheese cookbook. My slightly altered version is remarkably simple: penne pasta, 2 types of cheddar, canned tomatoes, salt, and pepper. The key to success lies in allowing it sit for at least four hours in the refrigerator, between assembly and baking. During this incubation period, something magical happens between the juicy tomatoes and cheese, and the pasta absorbs the mysterious sauciness. After everything is allowed to saturate, the pasta is baked, and becomes crunchy and browned on top, and saucy and cheesy below the surface.
Another distinguishing element: the cheese is diced, not shredded, resulting in an über-cheesy final product. Please refrain from laughing, but this macaroni and cheese is also fairly healthy when compared to other recipes within the mac and cheese genre. Perhaps “less unhealthy” is a more accurate description. It lacks butter, cream, half-and-half, whole milk, double cream Brie, or anything of the sort. The cheesy factor is created solely by the presence of abundant cheddar. Not only do I believe that this makes the dish less unhealthy, but it also gives the dish a greater cheesy flavor since it doesn’t have any cream or béchamel diluting the cheese. As wonderful as this mac and cheese is, and despite the fact that I firmly believe that it is the least unhealthy of mac and cheese recipes, I will not attempt to claim that the tomatoes count as a vegetable. Not even a cheese-addicted psycho cooker would be that foolish. However, the flavor they impart is invaluable, cutting the richness and monotony of endless cheese, and there must be at least a trace of lycopenes.
Mac and Cheese with Tomatoes
1 lb. penne pasta
1-28 oz. whole peeled tomatoes
½-1 lb. of mild cheddar, diced
½-1 lb. of sharp cheddar, diced
· You want somewhere between a pound and a pound and a half of cheese total. I think a pound and a quarter is perfect, but it’s a personal preference.
· Place the cheese in the freezer for 10 minutes for easy chopping.
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
· Placed a large pot of water on the stove over high heat. When boiling, add a tablespoon of salted water and the pasta. Cook the pasta, but drain the pasta 2-3 minutes before it is fully cooked (about 8-9 minutes).
· Place the tomatoes with juice in a large bowl. Break apart tomatoes with your hands or a wooden spoon.
· Add diced cheese, pasta, and salt and pepper to taste.
· Add pasta mixture to a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish. (A sprintz of cooking spray will make the pan easier to clean.)
· Cover the pasta mixture and allow to sit in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours (or as long as overnight).
· Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes, or until hot, bubbly, and browned on top.