This smoky baked mac and cheese with tomatoes is comfort food at its finest, laden with cheddar cheese and fire-roasted tomatoes and topped with crispy bread crumbs and more cheese. This macaroni and cheese with tomatoes recipe is baked in the oven in under 30 minutes.
This recipe is magnificent. The bread crumbs on top are crunchy and the sauce is just spicy enough to be flavorful, but not so much that it makes your nose run.
Why you'll love this baked mac and cheese with tomatoes recipe
It's simple comfort food: This recipe uses only a few simple ingredients and makes the most warm and comforting mac and cheese you've ever eaten. The sauce is creamy and rich - and it stays that way even after baking. No dried out mac and cheese here!
It's easy: Most macaroni and cheese recipes require a roux made of melted butter and flour. This recipe does not use a roux, so it's really quick and easy to make.
What you'll need to make baked mac and cheese with tomatoes
- Deep 9x13 pan - You'll need this to bake the mac and cheese.
- Small saucepan - You will heat the heavy cream so that the shredded cheese will melt when you mix it in.
- Large pot - This is what you will use to cook the macaroni, and then you'll mix the cheese sauce, tomatoes, and onions into the macaroni right there in the pot.
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Rubber spatula
See the printable recipe card at the bottom of the page for all measurements and nutritional information.
- Uncooked elbow macaroni - You're going to cook the macaroni according to its package instructions in the first step, so if you already have cooked macaroni, that's fine. I measured the uncooked macaroni. If you don't have macaroni or elbows, you can use another shape of pasta such as cavatappi or shells.
- Heavy cream - This may also be called whipping cream or heavy whipping cream. This is essential for the recipe, and you can't substitute milk or half and half as these will curdle in the sauce.
- Dijon mustard - This might sound strange but it adds a dimension to the cheese sauce that you will miss if you leave it out.
- Salt - You can throw in some freshly ground black pepper too, if you want to.
- Paprika - Paprika is made from red bell peppers that have been roasted, dehydrated, and ground into a powder. I used sweet paprika in this recipe, but I think smoked paprika would be really nice here. The next time I make it, I'm going to use the smoked and see how that comes out.
- Shredded smoked Cheddar cheese - If you can't find smoked cheddar, you can use regular sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese. Or go crazy and use a different cheese like pepperjack, gruyere, or smoked gouda.
- Fire-roasted diced tomatoes - These need to be well drained. If you can't find fire-roasted diced tomatoes, you can use plain diced tomatoes or even Rotel, but the fire-roasted tomatoes have a nice, smoky flavor that make the mac and cheese really tasty.
- Chopped onion - You're going to need to sauté this before beginning the recipe. You can leave it out, but the mac and cheese won't taste as good. You can replace it with onion powder but it won't taste the same.
- Grated Parmesan cheese - This is NOT the shelf stable can o' dust you see at pizza shops. It's the actual cheese that has to be refrigerated.
- Bread crumbs - You can use standard bread crumbs or panko, but stay away from seasoned bread crumbs (like Italian bread crumbs - you don't want those!).
- Olive oil - This is used to make a crumble topping that will get crispy as the mac and cheese bakes.
How to make the best baked mac and cheese with tomatoes
- Cook and drain the macaroni as directed on package. Return to saucepan; cover to keep warm.
- Pre-heat oven to 375ºF. Spray a 9x13-inch glass baking dish with cooking spray.
- In a 2-quart saucepan, heat whipping cream, mustard, salt, and paprika over medium heat. Bring to a boil.
- Reduce to low heat; stir in cheddar cheese.
- Continue to stir until the cheese is all melted and the sauce smooth.
- Pour sauce over macaroni.
- Stir in tomatoes and onions.
- Pour into baking dish.
- In small bowl, mix Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.
- Stir in oil.
- Sprinkle over top of macaroni mixture in casserole dish.
- Bake uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes or until edges are bubbly and top is golden brown.
Tips for the best mac and cheese with tomatoes
Undercook the pasta: When you're making baked pasta, it's best to slightly undercook it. Remove it from the water a minute or so before the box says to. It will continue cooking in the sauce in the oven.
Drain the tomatoes: Make sure you fully drain the tomatoes, like maybe even press them in the colander a tiny bit to get out the excess fluid. (But not so much that you crush them!) You don't want any extra liquid in the mac and cheese.
Shred your own cheese: Let me first say that I almost always use pre-shredded cheese because I am strapped for time and need whatever shortcuts I can manage. However, on the rare occasion that I have time to spare, I do shred my own cheese, and the sauce is creamier and tastes better. But it's still good with pre-shredded, so use that if you need to.
Side note: If you want to use gruyere or pepper jack, you will probably have to shred it yourself. I've never seen either one pre-shredded in my local grocery store.
Mac and cheese variations
Make this a hearty meal by adding pre-cooked shredded chicken, pulled pork, cubed ham, or ground beef when you mix in the tomatoes.
If you are a big garlic fan, press 2 cloves of garlic and mix in with the heavy cream.
You can use a different style of diced tomatoes if you want to. Rotel, Italian, and tomatoes with onions, will all work.
Make it Italian: If you use Italian tomatoes, you can also use Italian breadcrumbs and maybe even mozzarella cheese instead of smoked cheddar. I'd also replace the paprika with Italian seasoning and press 2 cloves of garlic into the heavy cream mixture.
Can you make mac and cheese with tomatoes ahead?
Yes, you can. You can make the cheese sauce, combine the sauce with the noodles, and stir in the tomatoes and onions. Stop there and transfer the mac and cheese to an airtight container and keep in the fridge for up to 3 days. When you're ready to bake, you may need to mix in a splash of heavy cream as the pasta will have soaked up some of the sauce.
Spread the mac and cheese in a casserole dish and let it sit for 30 minutes on the counter to warm up a bit. Top with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese mixture, then bake as directed. It may need a few more minutes since it will be cold when you put it in the oven.
You can also freeze the pre-made mac and cheese. Mix in the tomatoes and onions, then transfer to an airtight container. Freeze for up to 2 months. To bake, thaw overnight in the fridge. Spread the defrosted mac and cheese in a casserole dish and let it sit for 30 minutes on the counter to warm up a bit. Top with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese mixture, then bake as directed. It may need a few more minutes since it will be cold when you put it in the oven.
How to store leftovers
Transfer leftover mac and cheese to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The breadcrumbs will get soggy in this method but it will still taste good.
Reheat in the microwave for 30-60 seconds or until hot.
If you want the bread crumbs to stay crispy, leave the mac and cheese in the baking dish, cover it tightly with aluminum foil, and then pop it back into the oven at 350ºF for 10-15 minutes or until heated through.
You can also freeze this macaroni and cheese with tomatoes. Transfer to an airtight container and then store in the freezer for up to 2 months. Or, wrap the casserole dish tightly with plastic wrap then aluminum foil and freeze it for up to 1 month. To serve, thaw overnight in the fridge then heat as directed above.
What to serve with the best mac and cheese with tomatoes
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