Follow Ina Garten's Tomato Tip To Boost The Flavor Of Mac And Cheese

Beloved TV personality, chef, and former gourmet food store owner Ina Garten has a knack for upgrading any dish into the most elegant and flavorful version of itself. Her graceful and calm demeanor as she prepares complex multi-course meals and extravagant desserts is certainly an admirable feat, but many of her tips and tricks are attainable by even the greenest of home cooks. A case in point is her effortless yet impactful tomato tip to elevate a classic mac and cheese casserole.

Garten recommends adding sliced tomatoes to the top of mac and cheese before baking the casserole. Tomatoes and cheese are a classic duo, as evidenced by pizza, lasagna, and grilled cheese dunked in tomato soup. While raw tomatoes offer a mild tanginess and juiciness, baking them will bring out a concentrated sweet and umami flavor to complement the salty, savory cheeses like Gruyère, Parmesan, and cheddar, and the richness of the milky roux. 

They'll also offer a delicate soft bite and a pop of color to the dish, so you'll get a visual, textural, and flavorful upgrade. In a recipe on her website, Garten swaps the typical shredded cheese topping for sliced tomato rounds and butter-soaked bread crumbs for a well-balanced sweet and savory flavor boost and a tasteful toasty crunch from the bread crumbs.

Seasoning and elaborating on your tomato mac and cheese

Topping mac and cheese with slices of tomatoes is a simple and affordable way to upgrade your favorite baked mac and cheese recipe. You can use any type of fresh tomato you'd like. If you really want a show-stopping presentation, you could even use slices of multi-colored heirloom tomatoes. Sliced cherry tomatoes, meanwhile, would add more sweetness to the mix along with a bright burst of bite-sized juiciness.

Nutmeg and crushed black pepper are essential seasonings to enhance the savory and creamy cheese sauce, but the addition of umami-packed tomatoes opens up new avenues for flavor pairings. Curry powder, smoked paprika, or a dash of hot sauce would add unique complementary flavors that would pair well with tomatoes and cheese. You could also upgrade your bread crumbs with additional spices, herbs, and seasonings.

A blend of bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, dried basil, and oregano would give your mac and cheese a savory, salty, Italian twist. If you want to further enhance the umami richness of the tomatoes, you could toss the bread crumbs in reserved sun-dried tomato oil. And, for Southern flair, you could swap white bread crumbs for cornbread crumbs spiced with cayenne and paprika to toast over green tomatoes, using a cheese sauce of sharp orange cheddar and a scoop of pimento cheese.