Baked Tomato Macaroni + Cheese

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A true fact about Robert Luessen, this was the first time he made homade macaroni and cheese. I was there to supervise and grate the cheese of course, becaus I am the pasta person in our kitchen, an macaroni and cheese is an incredibly serious business. I've been told many times, by many people of the wonders involving velveeta and stewed tomatoes for the ultimate mac and cheese experience. I had it nce t a party years ago and despite my plan of being a little grossed out, I was impressed with the combination. I can't say I agree that the best mac and cheese has velveeta and canned tomatoes (sorry, all) but I really felt like there was a something to that idea worth expanding on. 

We kept coming back to it when we were discussing how we'd make this. Keep it simple, and keep it tomatoey. Famous last words. With minimal frills about it, apart from being baked in a springform pan to keep it all nice and tidy, this is definitely a new favorite for me. 

Baked Tomato Macaroni + Cheese
serves 6

4 tbs butter, plus additional for pan
1/4 cup flour
3 cups milk
1 cup shredded white cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded fontina cheese
1 egg
1 pound paccheri rigati (if unavailable, rigatoni may be substituted)
3 large tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375°. Butter and flour a 9'' springform pan. Bring a large pot with salted water to a boil. Cook pasta for about 7 minutes, or until almost al dente. Drain pasta into a strainer and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour and whisk thoroughly to combine. Continue whisking until a pale, slightly golden roux is made, about 3 minutes. Gradually add milk and continue whisking until combined. Add garlic powder, salt, pepper and continue cooking, whisking occasionally until sauce has thickened, about 15 minutes. Working in small additions, whisk in cheddar and fontina cheeses, followed by the egg. Whisk thoroughly to combine, cover and keep warm.

In a large bowl, toss pasta with tomatoes, cheese sauce, and bread crumbs. Mix thoroughly. Transfer pasta mixture to springform pan. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool 20-30 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan and release mold. To serve, cut into wedges.