This flavorful cheeseburger mac and cheese is inspired by a classic summer cheeseburger. Sharp Wisconsin cheddar, tender macaroni, and perfectly browned hamburger are complemented by fresh bits of cherry tomato and arugula.
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.
Cheeseburger Mac and Cheese: A Vibrant Spin
With all this in mind, I set out to create a refreshed version of the ubiquitous hamburger mac and cheese. My inspiration was one of summer’s greatest 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 essential step for this cheeseburger mac and cheese 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 cheeseburger mac and cheese 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.
This flavorful cheeseburger mac and cheese is inspired by a classic summer cheeseburger. Sharp Wisconsin cheddar, macaroni, and perfectly browned hamburger are complemented by fresh bits of cherry tomato and arugula.
- 1 1/4 cups fresh cherry tomatoes, quartered, seeded and divided
- 2 1/4 tablespoons sea salt , divided
- 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) elbow pasta, uncooked
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 cup yellow onion , minced
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 4 cloves garlic , minced
- 10 ounces ground beef
- 1 cup arugula
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups 8 ounces Wisconsin sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 2 tablespoons Wisconsin parmesan cheese , shredded
Place tomatoes in a sieve; toss with 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Set aside to drain.
Bring large pot of water with 1 teaspoon sea salt to a boil. Cook macaroni just to al dente – do not overcook. Drain and set aside.
Heat olive oil in a wide, deep, broiler-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, paprika and cumin; sauté 3 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic and sauté additional 1 minute. Add ground beef; sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon sea salt. Cook until meat is no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Turn off heat and fold in 1 cup reserved tomatoes, arugula and cooked macaroni. Set aside.
Position rack in top third of oven. Heat broiler to high.
Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour; gradually whisk in milk, allowing mixture to thicken before adding additional. When all the milk is added, cook mixture, stirring constantly, over medium-low heat until it is thick enough to coat back of a wooden spoon, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat; fold in cheddar, stirring until smooth.
Fold cheese sauce into macaroni mixture. Sprinkle with parmesan and dot with remaining tomatoes. Place under hot broiler; broil until top is slightly browned and mixture is bubbling, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately.