Recipe: caprese mac and cheese

Sam Purnell puts an Italian twist on an American classic

Macaroni cheese is one of my all-time favourite dishes— it’s the perfect combination of the best two foods in existence, cheese and pasta. So, keeping with this week’s theme, I’m going to share perhaps my favourite macaroni cheese recipe, one that never fails to lift my mood and truly shows how superb this dish can be. It puts a twist on this classic by adding some Caprese flavours of mozzarella, tomato, and basil to the mix to really kick it up a notch.

Ingredients:

For the cheese sauce:
100g butter
70g plain flour
1 litre milk
1 bay leaf
½ onion
5 black peppercorns
A pinch of nutmeg
150g gruyere/other strong, mature cheese, grated
Salt & white pepper to taste

For the tomato layer:
400g tin whole peeled tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
As most college kitchens aren’t equipped with blenders, you can use 400g of passata for the same effect

For the macaroni cheese
500g pasta of your choice (I use the classic spiral-shaped tube), cooked
1 cup of cooking water reserved
8 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced to around ½ cm
95g basil pesto
150g mozzarella of your choice

Method:

1. To make the sauce, first warm the milk with the bay leaf, ½ onion and black peppercorns.

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan, and then add the flour.

3. Whisk this mixture until it starts to thicken, reaching a roux-like consistency.

4. Slowly whisk in the warmed milk until it has been fully incorporated.

5. Turn the heat down, add the nutmeg and allow the sauce to simmer gently for 10 minutes.

6. Turn down the heat then add the cheese, salt and pepper and stir until the cheese has melted.

7. Mix the sauce with the pasta. If the sauce is too thick, you can add some warm water to thin it out.

8. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.

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9. To make the tomato layer, add the salt and sugar to the tomatoes and blend with a stick blender until smooth. Or simply pour your passata mixture in the bottom of an ovenproof dish

10. Place half of the pasta in the dish on top of the tomatoes then top with half of the tomato slices and cheese. Dollop on the basil pesto.

11. Top with the remaining pasta.

12. Top with the remaining tomatoes and cheese then place in the oven.

13. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the tomatoes are roasted slightly and the cheese has melted and is golden brown.

14. Remove it from the oven and allow it to sit for 5 minutes before serving

15. Enjoy the best macaroni cheese in existence.