Pasta in a creamy cheese sauce, combined with canned, diced tomatoes, for a delicious bowl of comfort food. Enjoy as a stove-top or baked dish.
When I’m craving warm, cheesy, carb-filled comfort food, but need to rely on basic pantry and fridge staples, this is the dish I will make. This dish is a simple mac and cheese with tomatoes in it. It can be made with any pasta shape or size, needs just standard supermarket cheddar cheese and a can of tomatoes. I love diced tomatoes, but canned whole tomatoes will work, too. And of course, if you happen to have fresh tomatoes to use, they will work here, as well.
You can enjoy this pasta as a stove-top dish or spoon it into a baking dish and bake it off. The baking step allows you to add some additional toppings, such as more cheese on top, or crispy breadcrumbs or panko.
Pasta – I love rigatoni with this dish, though any shape pasta will work here, from spaghetti, to macaroni, to penne etc.
Cheese – No fancy cheese needed here. Just use regular supermarket cheddar, preferably Old, for best flavour. I sometimes use a mixture of white and yellow cheddar, if I have both, though it’s not necessary. You can experiment with different cheese, as you like.
Tomatoes – I’ve used canned diced tomatoes here. Alternately, you could use one or two canned whole tomatoes that you hand-crush. Even canned crushed tomatoes would work, though you would lose the chunky tomato texture. Fresh tomatoes that you dice up, will also work here you’ll just need to cook them in the pot longer so they soften.
You will also need – Butter, milk, flour and salt to make the cheese sauce. Optionally, chili powder and garlic powder can be used to flavour the dish, though you can omit, if you don’t have these on hand.
1. Boil Pasta and start sauce: First, start a large pot of water boiling to cook your pasta. Be sure to salt it well! Add the dried pasta once the water is boiling and cook it to al dente. In another large saucepan, you’ll make a basic cheese sauce, by melting butter, adding flour, then milk and seasonings. Cook this mixture a few minutes, until it thickens slightly.
2. Finish cheese sauce, add tomatoes and bake: Once the sauce mixture thickens a bit, remove the pot from the heat and add the shredded cheddar cheese to the sauce. I’ve used a mixture of white and yellow old cheddar cheese here. Stir in the cheese, then let stand about 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Spoon in some of the drained, cooked pasta and stir in. Add a bit at a time, until you have a nice, saucy mixture.
Add some drained, canned diced tomatoes and stir in. Add additional tomatoes and a bit of the juice from the can of tomatoes. Taste and season well. Spoon into one large baking dish or individual dishes and bake in a 350F oven for about 20 minutes. If you like, you can top with additional shredded cheddar cheese, dried breadcrumbs or Panko before baking.
- The cheese to tomato ratio is really a matter of personal taste, so add as much or as little as you like.
- When it comes to cooking pasta, unless you weigh it out, you might end up cooking more than you actually need. As such, don’t dump it all into the pot with the cheese sauce, but rather spoon it in in small increments and stir it in. That way you’ll know when to stop adding pasta and avoiding a too much pasta/too little sauce situation. If baking, make sure the pasta is left extra saucy, as some of the sauce will be absorbed in the baking process.
- Be sure to drain the diced or whole tomatoes (or use a slotted spoon) and add just the solids to start, to avoid watering down the cheese sauce. Then, at the end, you can add a splash of the tomato liquid to slightly flavour the cheese sauce with tomato, if you like. (You can also use a small bit of tomato paste to accomplish the same thing, without worry of watering down the cheese sauce.)
- If baking the pasta, you can bake as is, or top with additional grated cheddar cheese. You can also sprinkle with dried breadcrumbs or panko, for a crispy topping.
- This dish benefits from adequate salting, so be sure to taste at the end of cooking on the stove-top and add additional salt, as needed.
Get the Recipe: Pasta and Cheese with Tomatoes
- 6 oz rigatoni pasta, or other pasta shape (about 2 cups)
For the cheese sauce:
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 3 Tbsp all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/8 tsp chili powder
- Pinch garlic powder
- 5 oz cheddar cheese, shredded, about 1 1/2 cups well packed
- 1 - 1 1/2 cups canned diced tomatoes, drained, reserving juice from can
- 1 - 2 Tbsp juice from canned tomatoes
- Additional shredded cheddar cheese
- Dried breadcrumbs or Panko
- Boil a large pot of water for cooking pasta. Salt well. Cook pasta just until al dente. Drain and set aside until needed.
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and stir, cooking, for about 1 minute. Add about half the milk and stir until smooth. Add remaining milk, along with the salt, chili powder and garlic powder. Cook, stirring, until mixture thickens slightly, about 5-7 minutes. Remove pot from heat. Add shredded cheddar cheese and stir in. Let stand 1 minute, then return to it and stir until smooth.
- Add cooked and drained pasta to the pot, a bit at a time, stirring in and adding only as much as needed to keep a nice and saucy pasta. Add 1 cup of drained canned diced tomatoes and stir in. Add addition tomatoes, if you feel like you want a bit more. Add 1 Tbsp of juice from the canned tomatoes and stir in. Taste and add a bit more juice from the tomatoes, if you like. Don't add too much juice, or you will thin out your cheese sauce too much. (*alternately, you can add a tiny bit of tomato paste to the sauce in place of the juice from the can of tomatoes, for a tomato taste, without worry of watering the sauce down). Taste and add additional salt and some freshly ground pepper, as needed.
- Spoon into baking dish or individual baking dishes. Top with additional shredded cheese and/or dried breadcrumbs/Panko on top. Bake in preheated 350F oven for about 20 minutes.
The two of us had this for dinner last night and there was enough left over for our lunch today. I think it tasted even better today. I microwaved the leftovers and the rigatoni was still cheesy, not dry at all. I chose the option to bake the pasta yesterday.
So glad you enjoyed it, Elizabeth! I most often find pasta tastes better next day, so leftovers are always good :) Thanks!
You know this is right up my alley!! Comfort food all the way… Is there anything better than pasta to fill that cozy cooking need?
Thanks Annie and yes, there are just some days that call for a bowl of this one :)
This is a recipe that would go over really well at our house Jennifer! Comfort food with all our favorite ingrdients! Can’t wait to give your recipe a try!
Thanks Mary Ann :)
Very comforting and easy dish! I’d cozy up with a bowl of this tomato cheese pasta and a good movie any time during the cold winter days we’ve been having.
Thanks Milena and same here! This is a great dinner after a day of shovelling out :)