By the time Beany turned 1, with a mouth full of teeth and a newfound interest in whatever sat on the plate of the person next to her, she’d pretty much lost all interest in the purees and baby foods we’d come to rely on as quick fixes for a hungry girl. Gradually, she started eating more and more big-people food, and we started feeling pretty proud of ourselves for the refined palate our toddler was developing. Now nearly 19 months old, she has a liking for sharp cheeses, spinach risotto and garlic and onion on anything. Of course, lest we get too proud in the matter, our tiny gastronome keeps us in check. Just last week, I caught her nibbling crayons (blue and yellow. Does that make it better?). So, yeah. The palate is a work in progress.
Refined palate and/or crayon-eating aside, Beany is a very much a toddler, and, like most little kids, she loves a good mac and cheese. She doesn’t get it often, but when she does, she devours it, and I’m happy to report that this version is her favorite to date. Maybe it’s the “Tigger tail” noodles instead of elbow macaroni (a switch made at Jared’s insistence), or maybe it’s the Gruyere and extra-sharp cheddar. Whatever the reason, she thinks it’s grand. We do, too.
Actually, I have a sneaking suspicion that most grownups love mac and cheese nearly as much as kids do, even though we’re programmed to think of it as kid food or a side for barbecue. The breadcrumbs and tomatoes really dress this guy up, and I’d happily serve it as a meal for company. You know, if Beany doesn’t get to it first. She’s a growing girl after all.
Tomato Mac & Cheese
Adapted slightly from the Barefoot Contessa
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 pound cavatappi (or elbow macaroni)
• 4 cups milk (I use skim.)
• 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
• ½ cup all-purpose flour
• 8 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
• 8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated
• 4 ounces Monterey Jack, grated
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 3 to 4 fresh tomatoes
• 1 ½ cups bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and drizzle in the olive oil. Add the pasta, and cook according to package instructions. Drain well, and set aside.
In the meantime, heat the milk in a small saucepan (but don’t let it boil). Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large pot. Add the flour and cook over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for another few minutes, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, stir in the three cheeses along with the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add the cooked pasta, and stir until well combined. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish (or divide between two smaller baking dishes).
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and mix it into the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the pasta. Slice the tomatoes and arrange them on top of the breadcrumbs. (I also like to add a bit more freshly ground black pepper on top, just because it looks pretty.) Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the pasta is browned on top.
Do you make any kid-friendly fare that’s fit for an adult crowd? Any fun additions to mac and cheese? Do tell!