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Rotini and other twisty pasta (Recipe: slow-roasted tomato macaroni and cheese) {vegetarian}

Slow-roasted tomato macaroni and cheese 

If you've ever doubted that the Chinese invented pasta, consider rotini and its strange-and-twisty pasta cousins: fusilli, cellentani, cavatelli, gemelli, spiralini, trofiette, campanelle, cavatappi.

Yes, they all have Italian names. But why go to all the trouble of twisting pasta if not to make it easier for chopsticks to grab?

I can't prove it, but I'm sure that's how twisted pasta got its start. Trust me on this. I'm not Chinese, but I eat a lot of non-Asian things, like salad and jambalaya and pasta, with chopsticks.


Rotini is a tightly twisted spiral shape, ideal for trapping sauces in its curves. The shape is not particular to any one type of flour; you'll find it in every major brand (Barilla, DeCecco, Prince), in your supermarket. I'm hooked on Dreamfields rotini and its low effective carbs. For some of the other strange and twisty shapes, you'll need to look in a specialty grocer or Italian market.

Store pasta in a cool, dry, well-ventilated part of the pantry. I keep a large glass jar for leftovers. Whenever I have bits left from a box, I toss them into the jar, and I use the mixed pasta for soup.

Sauces for the strange-and-twisty pastas definitely do not have to be Italian; Ted and I love rotini with Asian spicy meat sauce, but we'd also be happy with salmon rotini with roasted garlic and lemon, rotini all'arrabbiata, pesto pasta salad, rotini with shrimp, and mushroom and gorgonzola rotini.

All eaten with chopsticks, of course.

Slow-roasted tomato mac and cheese

Slow-roasted tomato macaroni and cheese

If you made slow-roasted tomatoes last summer, use them here. If not, good quality oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes work very well. In summer, substitute fresh basil for half of the parsley. This is a superb vegetarian main dish. Serves 6-8.


13.25 oz rotini (I use Dreamfields low-carb), or other strange-and-twisty pasta
2/3 lb feta, crumbled, divided
3/4 cup panko (or plain dry bread crumbs)
5 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided (or a mix of parsley and fresh basil leaves)
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
4 cups milk (whole or 2%)
1/2 lb Danish fontina, grated (or chopped in a food processor)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, drained
8-10 slow roasted tomato halves, finely chopped
1/2 to 1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 to 1 tsp fresh black pepper


Bring a large stockpot of water to the boil, and add the pasta. Cook for 8 minutes; the pasta should be a bit underdone. Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again. Add the pasta to a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a small bowl, combine 1/3 cup of the feta, all of the panko and 2 Tbsp parsley. Mix well and set aside.

Make the sauce: In a small sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add in the flour and stir until the flour is absorbed by the butter to form a paste. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the milk, and, with a wire whisk, stir vigorously to remove any lumps. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring frequently with the whisk, for 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.

Remove pot from heat, and whisk into the sauce the fontina, the remaining feta and red pepper flakes. Whisk until the sauce is smooth; the fontina will melt completely, and the feta will be well incorporated. Stir in the diced tomatoes, slow roasted tomatoes, and remaining parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce on top of the pasta, and stir to combine.

Pour the mixture into a casserole dish (approximately 9x13 inches). Sprinkle the panko mixture on top. Place in the middle of the oven and bake at 400°F for 25 minutes, until the top is browned and the cheese is bubbling a bit along the edges. Remove from the oven, let sit for 5 minutes, and serve hot.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Pasta with slow-roasted tomatoes
Four-cheese lasagne
Turkey-chile rotini
Broccoli, basil and pasta salad

Need more creative ideas for using tomatoes all year round? Get 25 Tomatoes, my e-book packed with fantastic recipes, full-color photos and a fun video tutorial. With the FREE Kindle Reading app, delicious tomato recipes will always be just one click away on any computer, tablet or smart phone. Click here to learn more.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Oh really? You eat pasta with chopsticks!?

lydia - first please let me wish you the very best for 2010. hope you had a great start to the new year. with a 7 year old at home we use a lot of pasta! so it's always super to have a few variations to the classic pasta and tomato sauce!! love this!

Yum Yum, I really love macaroni and cheese. Thanks for another recipe.

I really like your post and will come back oftenly. Thanks.

this looks good. maybe its to early and I cant see properly yet, but how much panko does one use?

THAT looks SO GOOD!cheese-pasta-tomatoes, the trifecta of flavor for me!
I would love to use my own slow-roasted tomatoes from this past summer - but as soon as I made a batch my husband and I ate them up - they were truly the most delicious thing ever!

This pasta dish look good, thanks! I have numerous bags of individually frozen roasted tomatoes. I made them everytime I had extra fresh tomatoes this summer. I put them frozen on a platter and microwave them till hot and serve them with bread and sliced mozzerella cheese at room temperature. Love it! I also make roasted tomato soup for lunch often. I have to strain out the skins though as they are tough.

Yum! Sounds so tasty. I am trying to remember if I saw rotini in a gluten-free version at the store. Hmmm...will have to check!

The grooves also hold onto the sauce, as well as allowing a purchase by your chopsticks.

According to "The Encyclopedia of Pasta" the Marco Polo story was invented in Minneapolis in 1938 by the trade publication Macaroni Journal. More convincing: lots of surviving documentation showing modern-style dried pasta in Italy from 800 AD. But your joke is still funny.

So the Chinese also invented pasta...
Mae, you're a woman who likes to keep things straight -- so do I. Wonderful how stories have a life of their own! Lydia, you do such an amazing job of digging up history and obscure facts -- love it!
Last summer there were barely enough local tomatoes to eat. Most growers had very small output because of weather and a blight, so no roasted tom's at our house now. Looks yummy, have to try the alternative.

Lesson learned a while ago: When you can't get good fresh basil, try mixing fresh parsley and dried basil to share some of the live chlorophyll taste!

This might be a little oo robust for my kids at this point, but I might just sneak it in as a lunch for myself. Awesome recipe as always.

Yummy! What a delicious mac and cheese!
I looked for the low carb pasta that you mentioned but couldn't find it. I did find the Catelli Smart, which seems to get its fiber from oats.. looking forward to trying that. The nutrients come out ahead of the Healthy Harvest that we have been eating, in a side by side comparison.

My mom buys Dreamfields in cases! She asks me to make her lasagna with it so at least twice a year, I bring her a tray of lasagna made with Dreamfields Lasagna sheets.
I'm Chinese but I've never tried eating Italian food with chopsticks...might have to try it.

YUM! Want to try this. Love tomato and cheese combination. Thanks.

Now THAT'S Macaroni & Cheese!!

I love macaroni and cheese that includes tomato sauce. My favorite is tossing pasta with a fresh pomodoro and a bechamel, yum! This looks delicious.

Feta and fontina sounds like a great and new to me combination for mac & cheese. I'd never attempt eating this (or anything else for that matter) with chopsticks.

Mon dieu! Love the method, love the pics, and love just imagining the taste of this delectable-looking cold weather dish!

I always thought Marco Polo brought it back from the Orient. Who knows? But I love your reasoning about the curly variety making it easier for chopsticks!

Love the idea of slow roasted tomato macaroni and cheese. That sounds like the best of both worlds for me!

Wow! This is so tempting for me right now - I'm attempting to remain true to the Phase One plan for South Beach. But once I can indulge again - this is going to the top of the list!

Tigerfish, I eat lots of things with chopsticks. I don't remember how I got started on that, maybe for practice when I was first learning, but now I eat with them every day.

Meeta, I promise you will love this. I served it for Christmas Eve, as we had lots of vegetarians at the table, and it was a huge hit.

Easy Apps, please give this a try. It's delicious.

Milton, thanks for the catch! I'd left out the panko amount (3/4 cup) but have fixed the recipe. I'm always grateful for attentive readers like you!

Carol, try this with sun-dried tomatoes. It's the combination of cooked and raw tomatoes that gives this dish a special flavor.

Barb, tomato soup made with summer slow-roasted tomatoes is so good, isn't it?

Alta, rotini is one of the most common shapes of pasta. I think I've seen rice pasta in that shape.

Mae, thanks. I hope it made you smile!

Susan, we had a terrible tomato summer also, so I'm glad I made a few trays (not as many as usual) of the slow-roasted tomatoes. And thanks for the tip about basil, too.

Jerry, I don't know -- our grandchildren, ages 2 to 8, all loved it. Maybe worth a try?

Natashya, could be that the Dreamfields isn't widely distributed in Canada. But it is available by mail order on Amazon.com. If you don't need to watch your carbs, any of the lower-impact pastas will be fine in this recipe (it's really the cheese that's the winner here!).

Jessica, I use rotini or similar small pasta in almost everything, so I can eat it with chopsticks!

Melynda, Cindy: yep, this is one great mac and cheese.

Katerina, sounds like your favorite is similar to this, just a bit deconstructed. Cheese, tomatoes, pasta -- what could be bad?!

Janel, the feta isn't a melting cheese, so it needs to be paired with something that is. Gruyere works well in this dish, too.

CakeSpy, it is good, good, good.

Joan, true or not, the curly shapes are really easy to pick up with chopsticks, plus they trap more sauce. Two good reasons to use them.

Kalyn, the slow-roasted tomatoes really send this dish over the top.

FFF, stick with South Beach! But when you can add pasta back into your diet, look for the Dreamfields. It's incredibly low effective carbs and high taste are a tough combination to beat.

The creaminess here just works for me. The corkscrew would hold onto the sauce for every single bite.

OMG that looks amazing, wow. I love, love this idea!!

First Lydia I'm sending you my best wishes for the upcoming year.
Again just as I was trying to think of something cozy to eat this recipe appears in my inbox.
Thanks so much for sharing your recipes from the heart.

Oh, my. This looks awesome. I love the combination of cheeses, tomatoes and the rotini. YUM!

LOL, I love to eat with chopsticks too. I thought I was the only one...

The picture looked so good I was inspired to make baked pasta with cheese and panko on top last night. Thanks...

Lydia, thanks so much for all of the hearty vegetarian recipes. I am trying to build up my vegetarian repertoire. Must get more twisty pasta...

It's not as good as summer-roasted tomatoes, but you can also roast plum tomatoes anytime, and use them as a substitute. I am about to try a roasted tomato soup recipe, using plum tomatoes that I just bought and roasted. (The recipe also calls for sun-dried tomatoes and tomato juice.) It sounds delicious - as a topping you use crisp roasted baguette slices with grated sharp cheddar - like having a grilled cheese sandwich ON your soup!

This looks fab, perfect pasta shape for holding lots of sauce...and Feta!

Val, Noble Pig, Peter: you will not believe how delicious this is!

Kim, thank you so much. I'm sending best wishes for the new year right back to you!

Kate, I thought I was the only one! Good to know there's another chopsticks person out there.

Mae, did your baked pasta come out delicious? Pasta, cheese, panko -- what could be bad?!

Judy, roasting tomatoes in the off-season really improves their flavor, so even though it's not quite the same as roasting summer tomatoes, you'll still have wonderful tomatoes if you let them roast slowly for many hours.

That mac and cheese looks so good!

You have some really good recipes. This one strikes a chord, right now. It looks so hearty and right for the cold weather.

Mmmm... pass me a fork!

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