The sweetest, most flavor-packed tomatoes of summer are hitting the market in full force, and that means one thing: It’s caprese time! This summer I’m taking my tomato, basil, and mozzarella love affair beyond the salad bowl into comfort-food territory, and I recommend you join me. With gooey melted cheese, bright summer tomatoes, and sweet basil, this is the ultimate way to indulge in caprese.
The Cheesiest Way to Get Your Fill of Caprese
This summer-inspired comfort food starts with sharp white cheddar in a nod to classic mac and cheese, then ups the ante with an Italian twist. A big handful of shredded mozzarella leaves the luxe sauce extra gooey, while Pecorino brings subtle salty undertones.
This mac and cheese is rich, although it stops short of being overwhelming. It’s summer, after all. The juicy, ripe tomatoes and fresh basil are what make caprese so irresistible, and the same is true here. Together they add a layer of bright freshness that keeps this mac and cheese balanced.
The Ultimate Baked Caprese Mac and Cheese
Serves 6 to 8
10 ounces dried pasta shells
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole or 2% milk
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup torn fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Coat a 2-quart or 8-inch square baking dish with butter; set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Drain and set aside.
Melt the butter in the same pot over medium heat. Transfer 1 tablespoon of the butter to a small bowl, add the panko, and stir to combine; set aside.
Add the flour to the pot and whisk into the butter until completely combined. The mixture will look like wet sand. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to dry out, about 2 minutes.
Gradually whisk in a little bit of the milk until smooth, then whisk in the remaining milk until smooth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper, and mustard.
Remove the pot from the heat and stir the mozzarella, cheddar, and Pecorino in one handful at a time until melted and smooth. Stir in the pasta, tomatoes, and basil.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and smooth the top. Sprinkle the panko evenly over the top. Bake until bubbly and the top is golden-brown, 10 to 15 minutes.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.