The game plan here is to start the water for the pasta and then assemble your other ingredients in a large bowl while you wait. Turn on your oven too, so it's all ready to go when you need it. This isn't a less than 30 minute meal, but it's not that time-consuming, either. And considering most of the pots and plans will be cleaned up while everything is getting all cozy in the oven, it just might make it worth the effort on a weeknight.
I've added pesto to the sauce, just a little bit. It's a simple and an easy way to add some complex flavour to the dish without a lot of effort. If you don't have any on hand go ahead and leave it out. Also store-bought pesto might be a bit salty, so as I instruct below, make sure you have tasted your dish for salt before you add more.
This bakes up into the cheesiest, creamiest pasta with a little help from the sour cream. It gives this great tang and avoids the otherwise necessary béchamel sauce. Once the pasta is cooked it really is just a matter of dumping everything into a large bowl to mix it together before baking it into your favourite casserole dish to bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
Creamy Tomato Mac and Cheese Bake
- 3 cups small shell macaroni cooked to package directions
- 2 cups cheddar cheese I used sharp white cheddar
- 1 cup sour cream
- ¼ cup parmesan
- 398 ml 1 can fire roasted tomatoes
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon pesto optional
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoons butter cut into small pieces
- Preheat oven to 350 and lightly spray a 2.8 lt (3 qt) casserole dish with cooking spray.
- Cook pasta according to package directions in plenty of salted water. To al dente, reserving some of the pasta water, just in case, to thin the sauce later if needed.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together cheddar, sour cream, parmesan, canned tomatoes and spices (cayenne, oregano, dry mustard, salt and pepper) and pesto if using.
- Add the cooked and drained pasta to the cheese mixture and toss until well combined. Add a little of the reserved pasta cooking water if the dish seems a bit dry. Taste for seasoning and adjust by adding more salt and pepper if necessary. It will depend on the type and saltiness of your cheese and pesto (if using). Pour mixture into prepared casserole dish. Pushing it down gently to even out the top.
For the toppings:
- In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and butter and squeeze the butter through the bread crumbs with your fingers to form a very loose meal. Once butter feels evenly distributed, sprinkle over the casserole dish.
- Bake in 350 oven for about 30 minutes. The casserole should be bubbly around the edges and starting to brown. If you want the top to brown a bit more, go ahead and use the broiler for a minute or so to just toast the crumbs a bit.