The Canned Ingredient That Gives New Life To Boxed Mac And Cheese

Chances are you ate boxed macaroni and cheese as a kid, and for those who love the dish just remembering the gooey, oozing, chewy macaroni covered in velvety cheese can probably make you crave a helping. However, the next time you prepare mac and cheese, the experience might come up short of what you imagined. It's not that the dish has changed, and you (hopefully) haven't messed up the butter-milk-cheese powder recipe — it's just that nothing tastes as good as nostalgia.

But that doesn't mean having to give up on this childhood favorite. The next time you make stovetop mac and cheese, add a can of tomato soup into the mix. That's right, the way to salvage your mac and cheese memories is to double down on the nostalgia with another childhood favorite. The classic combination of tomato and cheese takes centerstage in so many iconic comfort dishes. There's grilled cheese and tomato soup, of course, but there's also the Margherita pizza, a simple caprese salad, and even the Middle Eastern breakfast classic — shakshuka — with its crumbled feta cheese topping.

The acidity, sweetness, and sourness of tomato, combined with the fattiness and saltiness of the cheese hits all the right notes of taste, texture, and mouthfeel for deliciousness.

Use condensed soup for extra flavor

You can incorporate tomato soup in several ways, depending on how you like to prepare your mac and cheese. Using canned soup is easiest since it comes ready to eat and doesn't require additional cooking. Remember that it's important to use condensed tomato soup because of its concentrated flavors. If you're using regular tomato soup, cook it down until it thickens and the flavors intensify before adding it to your mac and cheese.

If you're a follow-the-box-instructions type person (or are prone to mistakes when following a recipe), don't worry. All you need to do is pour a small (10.75-ounce) can of condensed tomato soup along with the milk, butter, and cheese powder into your cooked and drained pasta. Then, a good stir to mix all the ingredients into a homogenous sauce, and you're all set to dig in.

If you like cooking your mac and cheese from scratch, you'll probably make a roux as a base for your cheese sauce. In this case, get your roux to your desired consistency and then add the tomato soup to it before adding the cheese. Once your tomato-cheese sauce looks right, add in the cooked pasta.

Finally, if you're feeling particularly bold, you can pour the tomato soup straight over your prepared mac and cheese. This also makes the dish's presentation quite dramatic, giving the creamy pasta dish some bright splashes of tomatoey goodness.

You've already got the ingredients you need to make mac and cheese gourmet

Mac and cheese is a delectable canvas on which you can paint almost limitless flavor combinations. The objective of any add-in is to juxtapose the creamy flavor of the mac and cheese to give it more depth. Tomato soup, for example, imbibes a hint of acidity and sweetness, but there are plenty of ingredients that are probably already in your kitchen that can turn this gooey dish into a complex and flavorsome meal.

Hot sauce or mustard will also bring acidity but with spicy undertones. Add some dried or fresh basil, oregano, or thyme for a zing of herby brightness. Got some pesto in the fridge? It can do the same. If some extra cheesy goodness is what you're after, there are plenty of cheeses from cream cheese to mozarella that you can add to your dish.

Another good idea is adding texture to complement the gooey mouthfeel. Everything from fried bacon bits to blanched spinach, toasted bread crumbs, croutons, crispy fried garlic, roasted vegetables, and crunchy arugula or kale works. You can even add some cooked lobster or salmon to up the protein content.

But no matter what you add whether that's bacon for a bit of fatty crunch or tomato soup for a decadent, tomato-y pasta, in the same way, Remy the rodent chef in the film "Ratatouille" floors the snobby food critic with a gourmet touch to a childhood favorite, your boxed mac and cheese can become a revelation with some simple additions.