Sunday, January 19, 2014

Baked (FREEZABLE) Four Cheese Tomato Pasta (REALLY GOOD Scratch MAC and CHEESE) - Church PotLuck Side Dish

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The pictures do not do this dish justice.  Bad lighting, not great photos.  Jackie and I are house sitting this week so I am going to have to cook dinner before the sun goes down if I want natural lighting.

And as an aside, the weird world that is my life, we are actually dog sitting for the week.  But this dog is not just any dog, she is a professional Cadaver Dog, this K-9 heroes trained to hunt for dead bodies in the woods or those killed in natural disasters.  We have a list of training duties we need to do to keep the dog's skill level high.  This working animal is the most amazing thing I have ever seen, with a list of commands longer than most teenagers that she follows to a T.  Aside from the bad lighting, going to be a fun week.

But I digress...

This recipe is about the best Macaroni and Cheese ever... 4 Cheeses, including hints of BLUE CHEESE (just hints, not a strong flavor) make this stand out.  The extra addition of a can of diced tomatoes make this stand out and sing compared to the whispers of flavors in that blue box.

And easy... Start to finish, maybe a half hour of work.

But also in the recipe are hints to make this a freezable meal.  Either work ahead and freeze or (like I did.) make one small casserole (8X8 instead of full 9X13) to eat today and one small (that 8X8 size) to freeze for another day.

A Couple BIG hints about freezing casseroles...

First, be sure the actual baking dish is freezer to oven safe.  Those ubiquitous Pyrex brand clear dishes work best.  You can also use a Foil disposable pan to freeze and bake, then transfer into a presentation  dish to serve.

Second, always best to thaw the casserole in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours before baking.  You can bake a frozen casserole right from the freezer.  But the edges will be baked more crispy than the center by the time it is finished.  To go straight from freezer to oven to table, just increase the baking time by 30 minutes.  But again, you will have better results if you plan ahead and thaw the meal as much as possible.  Leaving the casserole out on the counter for 2 hours (covered with the foil) also helps.  The casserole will not be thawed completely but will cook more evenly.  If you do this, only cook for another 20 minutes.  As usual, but even more so, keep an eye on the dish as it cooks.  Once the liquid is bubbling and the top is crispy crunchy, the dish is done no matter how much time you cook.

Third, 60 days... Two Months. NO MORE... Prepare and freeze, but date the dish.  Cook and serve within 60 days for best results.  Any longer and you will have freezer burn and the dish will start to turn on you.  Personally, I am a 30 day guy,but I have baked these right at 60 days and it was fine.

OK.. Read over the recipe.  The freezing tips are in italics.  Enjoy and let me know what you think of this rather unique but decadently GREAT Mac and Cheese!

OK... Here's what I did...

Baked Four Cheese Pasta (REALLY GOOD Scratch Macaroni and CHEESE)

  • 1 (16 Ounce) Box Favorite Pasta (buy shapes with lots of curlicues for extra surface area)
  • 1 (14 Ounce) Can Diced Tomatoes (do NOT drain, juice and all)
  • 3 TBS Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Onion, Diced
  • 1 Head of Garlic (yes, whole Head, a dozen cloves), Separated into cloves, skins removed and minced
  • 1 Cup White Wine
  • 2 Cups Heavy Cream
  • 1 Cup plus 1/4 Cup Freshly Shredded Parmesan Cheese PLUS extra 1/4 Cup for topping
  • 8 Ounces Blue Cheese Crumbles (the tub from the cheese aisle)
  • 2 Cups Freshly Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1 Cup Freshly Shredded Fontina Chees
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • 1/4 Cup Crushed Butter Crackers (generic name for a Ritz Cracker... But I used Goldfish Crackers)
Cooking Directions
  1. Pre heat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Prepare Pasta according to directions on the box ... EXCEPT, prepare al Dente style, cook 2 minutes less than the time recommended on the box. The pasta will finish cooking in the sauce while baking. Drain, but DO NOT RINSE (the starchy coating on the pasta helps the cheese to stick and be absorbed into the pasta)
  3. While the pasta in cooking, in a medium nonstick sauce pan, Heat the Olive Oil over Medium heat. Add the diced onion and saute for about 5 minutes, until the onion becomes translucent and soft. Add the garlic and continue to saute for another minute.
  4. Add the White Wine to the garlic/onions in the pot, increase the heat to medium high, Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half (about 10 minutes).
  5. Add the Heavy Cream to the pot, lower the heat and stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes, until the liquid just starts to thicken. Salt and Pepper to taste (about 1/2 tsp each for me).
  6. While the sauce is thickening, Spread the cooked pasta into a 9X13 Casserole Dish (or two 8 inch square baking dishes if you want to have one now and freeze one for later). Mix in the canned diced tomatoes with the pasta (including the juices).
  7. Back to the pot of Garlic/Onions/reduced White Wine/Heavy Cream... Finally add the 4 cheeses, stir to mix until the cheeses have melted into the sauce.
  8. Spread the sauce over the top of the pasta. No need to mix, as the sauce with ooze down into the dish. Add a layer of grated Parmesan Cheese for a crispy topping.
  9. At this stage, if you are making two casseroles, or plan to freeze the large one... cover the freezer casserole with Aluminum Foil, pushing the foil down so there is as little air between top of casserole and the foil as possible (prevents freezer burn). Allow this to cool on the countertop to room temperature and then pop in the freezer. When you want to cook this, just transfer to the refrigerator 24-48 hours before you plan to cook and cook as directed below. If you do not have the time to thaw in the refrigerator, cook as directed an additional 30 minutes.
  10. Finally... Time to cook... Put the Casserole in the preheated 400 degree oven and bake for 30 minutes, until the edges have a bubbly liquid and the top has a crunchy crispy baked topping.
  11. Serve HOT and ENJOY!


This recipe has been added to my growing list of "52 Church PotLuck Dishes"!

A list of something NEW worthy of being shown off at a neighborhood BYODish (Bring Your Own Dish) Party, a Family special occasion dinner, Any Big Holiday Gathering or of course that glorious day when you bring a dish to share with your Church family...

Ages ago, literally almost a half century ago I was listening to our pastor talking about a PotLuck Dinner. It happened to be scheduled around a church work day when we were expected to weed, polish and do general cleaning and maintenance around the church (you know, back in the day when there were no no-wax floors and church pews smelled of Old English furniture polish). I am of course paraphrasing, but as I recall the pastor said,

"A potluck, like a church requires work. At a potluck everyone is expected to contribute.. At a church no one should come empty handed and no one should leave unfed".
I will confess that in my youth I brought more store bought plastic spoons and forks than I ever brought covered dishes and crock pots of fresh made love and caring delights. But now that I have become a hobbyist cook, I occasionally am reminded of those days and people from my youth. I reminded and I do wish that I could drop a dish of some new creation on those old tables at my fondly remembered Liberty Baptist Church.  Tables covered with newspapers and loaded with God's bounty prepared with love and caring... Enjoy


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