Macaroni & Cheese with Tomatoes & Herbes de Provence

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, diced, plus more for greasing the baking dishes

¾ cup panko breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence

1 ounce grated Parmegiano-Reggiano

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 quart milk

2 cloves garlic, grated

1/8 teaspoon piment d'Espelette

12 ounces shredded medium cheddar

4 ounces shredded provolone

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound short tubular pasta, such as macaroni, penne, or rigatoni

12 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

 

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Butter 6 individual baking dishes. Toss together the breadcrumbs and oil in a medium bowl, making sure that the breadcrumbs are evenly coated. Stir in the Herbes de Provence and Parmegiano.

 

Heat the butter in a large, heavy pot over medium heat until it melts, bubbles, and the foam subsides. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it begins to smell toasty. Whisk in the milk, garlic, and piment d'Espelette. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, or until thick. Remove from the heat, stir in the cheddar and provolone, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

 

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to the package directions. Drain the pasta when it is al dente. Immediately add the pasta to the cheese sauce and toss to combine. Divide among the baking dishes. Divide the tomatoes among the baking dishes, arranging them evenly over the macaroni and cheese. Sprinkle evenly with the breadcrumb mixture. Arrange the baking dishes on a baking tray and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling around the edges. If the breadcrumb topping is still pale, broil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve immediately.   

 

Serves 6. The piment d'Espelette, a Basque chile powder, may be replaced with a pinch of cayenne pepper. Don’t bake the mac and cheese too long—overcooked cheese sauce becomes grainy. May be prepared a day or two in advance and kept covered with aluminum foil in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature and bake just before serving.

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