Everyone has their ultimate comfort food, for me its mac & cheese, but I adore a lovely fresh Caprese salad as well. Not wanting to choose between the two I decided to combine them and come up with this amazing Caprese Inspired Three Cheese Macaroni.
With Summer quickly coming to an end and Autumn creeping up on us, I wanted a new way to enjoy the fresh flavours of a Caprese salad but still enjoy a warm evening meal. And because I will eat mac & cheese in almost any combination (vegetarian-friendly of course) it was the perfect combination for me and I know you will love it too!
Three Kinds of Cheese
I made sure all the usual Caprese salad ingredients were included, mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil. I combined these with a mature cheddar cheese sauce. So there is plenty to please all the cheese fans out there. And for the topping, I mixed in a little Italian hard cheese – basically Parmesan for Vegetarians! – If you don’t follow a vegetarian diet then, by all means, use parmesan.
Be it a vegetarian Italian hard cheese or the real deal parmesan it really brings to life this simple topping. The crunchiness adds another texture to this fabulous and simple dish!
Roux’s and Al Dente
Don’t be afraid of making a roux and your own cheese sauce from scratch, honestly it’s easy. Make sure you have everything weighed out and at hand and if in doubt just keep the heat low on your stove top. And keep stirring with a whisk or a wooden spoon if you don’t have a whisk. The heat will thicken your sauce and the whisk/spoon will help get rid of any lumps that may appear.
And if you are a little unsure about Al Dente pasta here is a really handy page from WikiHow on how to get your pasta perfectly Al Dente. You want to try and keep your pasta like this because it will soften even more one it is covered in cheese sauce and popped in the oven. And you don’t want a pan full of mushy pasta!
So if you are a mac and cheese fan and you are looking for a last taste of Summer then this Caprese Inspired Three Cheese Macaroni is the dish for you!
This dish can also be made ahead of time, just follow the recipe all the way to the point before it goes in the oven. Cover it with foil and keep in the fridge for up to 24 hours. I do this sometimes, so when I come home from work all I have to do is preheat my oven pop it in and in 25 minutes I have this lovely mac and cheese for my dinner.
Caprese Inspired Three Cheese Macaroni
- 1.2 litres water (5 cups)
- Pinch of salt
- 230 grams macaroni (2 cups)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons plain (all purpose flour)
- 600 millilitres milk *1 (2 and 1/2 cups)
- 200 grams grated mature cheddar cheese (3 cups)
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- 175 grams cherry tomatoes - halved (approx. 12-15)
- 125 grams mozzarella (4 ounces)
- 5 - 8 fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons Italian hard cheese
- 2 tablespoons bread crumbs
- Bring a large pan with the water and salt in it to the boil. Add in the macaroni bring the pan back to the boil and then slightly reduce the heat so the pan is at a bubbling simmer. The macaroni will need about 8 minutes, you still want it to be a little al dente. (See above for more information on cooking pasta al dente).
- Drain the macaroni and leave it to cool down.
- Now its time to make the roux. In a medium sized pan over a low to medium heat melt the butter then take it off the heat. Add in the flour and stir it into the melted butter.
- Place it back on the low to medium heat and very slowly add a little of the milk at a time stirring all the time. Keep adding the milk a little at a time, constantly stirring will help prevent lumps appearing in your sauce.
- Once all the milk has been added bring it up to a gentle simmer and then add the grated cheddar a little at a time and stir until it is fully melted into your white sauce.
- The heat and the cheese will help naturally thicken your sauce.
- Add a little salt and pepper to taste and take your cheese sauce off the heat.
- Pour your cheese sauce over your cooled macaroni, stir it all up so all of the macaroni is nicely covered.
- Take your halved cherry tomatoes and pop them in the pan as well and stir them into the mac & cheese. Rip up your basil leaves and stir them into your mac & cheese as well.
- Lightly grease a 20 centimeter (8 inch) round or square dish and pour in your mac & cheese.
- Tare your mozzarella into small pieces and sprinkle it all over the top.
- In a small dessert bowl mix your Italian hard cheese and breadcrumbs together and then sprinkle on top on your macaroni cheese.
- If you are making this ahead of time this is the time to stop. Cover it tightly with clingfilm or foil and pop it in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Take it out of the fridge just as you pop your oven on to pre heat it so to bring it back to room temperature.
- If you want to bake it now then preheat your oven to 190C / 375F / Gas mark 5.
- Once your oven is hot pop it on the middle shelf and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. You want it to be piping hot all the way through and the top to be a light golden colour and have a crispy look to it.
- Serve immediately. Should you have left overs and wish to keep them for later, once it is cool again cover and place in the fridge for up to 2 days.
- To reheat either blast it in the microwave for 3 to 5 minutes or place it in the oven covered loosely with foil and heat for 15 minutes at the above temperature.