My childhood caught the tail end of the casserole era, and hamburger macaroni and cheese conjures warm memories for me. Since then, the fortunes of food fashion have been unkind to the casserole. With its reliance on canned and processed ingredients, the standard casserole feels like a mid-century American relic. But the simplicity of a make-ahead meal and the appeal of nostalgia are alluring. Happily, all it takes to rehabilitate this homey classic is a modern approach to ingredients with a focus on fresh, whole foods.
With all this in mind, I set out to create a refreshed version of the ubiquitous hamburger mac and cheese. I took my inspiration from one of summer’s great delights – a grilled cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato. I started by sautéing beef with onions and garlic, folded in al dente macaroni, and stirred in a creamy sharp Wisconsin cheddar cheese sauce. The next step was to fold in bright red cherry tomatoes and emerald arugula leaves. I topped it all with shredded Parmesan and then set the skillet under the broiler for a few minutes until the whole thing was bubbling and the cheese had browned in places.
The resulting dish was creamy and rich, with delicious bits of caramelized tomato and wilted arugula. Everybody at the table loved it (a rare event at my family table, especially where vegetables are concerned) and I think you will too. Get the recipe, and help celebrate National Macaroni and Cheese Day, over on All Things Mac and Cheese! The folks at All Things Mac and Cheese are also hosting a huge cheese giveaway – get yourself entered here.