Mac and cheese gets heartier, and possibly even more family-friendly, when you stir ground beef and fire-roasted tomatoes into the cheese sauce. Make sure to drain the tomatoes so the sauce doesn’t get too thin. We call for whole-grain rotini, but any short pasta shape will work here; just do try to go whole-grain for more nutrition. This budget-friendly dinner costs less than $9. If you don't have dry mustard (used for added depth), stir in a teaspoon of Dijon.
8 ounces uncooked whole-grain rotini
1/2 pound extra-lean ground sirloin
1/4 cup prechopped yellow onion
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 (14.5-oz.) can unsalted fire-roasted diced tomatoes, drained
Cook pasta according to directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain.
Heat a large skillet over medium. Add beef, onion, Worcestershire, and mustard; cook, stirring often, until meat is done, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; stir in tomatoes.
Whisk together milk and flour. Pour mixture into skillet; bring to a boil over high. Add cheeses; stir until cheeses melt. Remove from heat. Stir in pasta and meat mixture. Top with parsley, salt, and pepper.
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This went together quickly and easily but was just ok flavor-wise. I even used sharp cheddar (full fat). Next time I'd add some minced garlic, more salt, and probably some herbs. My teenager said it needed bacon. Easily adaptable to addition of other veggies too - mushrooms, squash, spinach, etc. Will make again.
This was a good, midweek comfort-foody meal that was easy to throw together amid the Christmas-prep busyness. I had all the ingredients on-hand (except rotini which I subbed with elbows), and even the proportions were about right; I thought 8oz. pasta might be too much and 8oz. beef too little, but they weren't. I left everything in the skillet and cooked the cheese sauce in the saucepan I'd used for the pasta, then added the sauce to the skillet. I also found 1/4 tsp. of salt to be enough as I'd added salt to the pasta water. The only other thing I would change is the amount of cheddar, as the sauce was rich enough to provide a nice contrast to the tomatoes, but not cheesy enough for even an extra-sharp cheddar to come through well. Even so, I found myself sneaking forkfuls from the skillet. This would normally seem a plebian dish but on a chilly, damp day it hits the right spot and I'll be making it again.
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