This very hearty smokey mac and cheese is great as a side or main dish. It's easy to make.
Preheat oven 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cook the pasta 4 minutes less than the al dente instructions. Drain and set aside.
Note: If you prefer your pasta softer feel free to cook it fully as per the instructions on the box.
Simultaneously make the cheese sauce.
Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a heavy bottom pot using medium heat.
Note: do not allow the butter to burn
Whisk in the 1/4 cup flour. Cook 1 to 2 minutes stiring constantly.
Slowly whisk in the milk. Stir constantly until the milk is fully incorporated.
Add the crushed garlic, black pepper, salt and nutmeg.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 2 to 3 minutes until sauce starts to thicken.
Whisk in the cup of shredded cheddar cheese and 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the smoked gruyere cheese. Stir until the cheeses are fully melted and the sauce is smooth. Turn off the stove.
Add the cooked pasta. Stir to thoroughly coat with the cheese sauce.
In a frying pan, melt 1/2 tablespoon butter over medium heat.
Add the tomato chunks. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook 1 to 2 minutes until the tomatoes are slightly wilted.
Add the basil leaves, stir until the basil starts to wilt and becomes bright green. Turn off the stove and set aside.
In a small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter.
In a small bowl, combine the cracker crumbs with the melted butter. Mix to coat the crackers.
Assemble the mac and cheese:
Place a 4 quart bowl on top of a sheetpan.
Note: You can line the sheetpan with a silicone liner or parchment paper. I usually do this step to make clean up easier in the event the sauce spills over.
Pour 1/2 of the mac and cheese into the bowl. Spread it throughout the bottom of the bowl.
Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the shredded Gruyere cheese.
Note: If you don't want as much cheese, you can skip this step. Just dump the entire mac and cheese into the bowl and sprinkle the toppings.
Pour the remaining mac and cheese over the gruyere cheese. Spread it out Sprinkle the wilted tomatoes and basils on top of the cheesy pasta.
Note: Alternatively, you can just add fresh tomatoes slices and fresh basil leaves without wilting.
Sprinkle the mozzarella pieces on top of the tomatoes/basil.
Sprinkle the cracker crumbs all over the top.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes until nice and bubbly.
Allow to cool 15 to 20 minutes before cutting.
Plate and serve as a main course or as a side dish. Enjoy.
Depending on the appetite of your eaters and serving as a side dish or meal, the portions will vary. When I serve as a meal, it serves six. It's pretty hearty so small portions fill you up.
The caprese style topping is optional and you can also choose not to wilt it. It adds more flavor in my opinion when its wilted. Have fun with making changes to this step.
You can use bread crumbs (panko style) instead of the ritz cracker crumbs.