Macaroni and cheese is great to make for dinner parties that include kids. I like to make two batches: one with a simple and classic cheese sauce, and the other with big, bold flavors. Today's recipe is for a Southwestern version packed with three kinds of peppers (roasted poblano, Hatch, and red bell) and topped with cornbread crumbs instead of the standard breadcrumbs.
The three peppers are full of flavor but quite mild. If you want heat, add some jalapeño, serrano, or chipotle peppers packed in adobo. Another option is to offer hot sauce or pickled jalapenos on the side so each diner can customize the fire level.
It's best if the cornbread has had a day to dry out a bit before you make it into bread crumbs. So start by making my brown-butter cornbread a day in advance. Unless you have tremendous willpower and can restrain your immediate family, you might want to make a double batch because you'll need most of one batch for the mac and cheese.
- 4 poblano peppers
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 cups cornbread, preferably a little dry/stale
- 1/4 cup all purpose-flour
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1/2 onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons oregano (preferably Mexican)
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
- 12 ounces extra-sharp cheddar (dryish and very flavorful), grated
- 10 ounces Monterey jack, grated
- 1 seven ounce can chopped roasted Hatch chili peppers
- 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
- Salt to taste
Broil the poblano peppers until they are thoroughly blistered, turning occasionally. Place in a covered bowl for 10 minutes to cool and let the skin loosen. Peel, and remove core, stem, and seeds. Finely dice.
Grate the cornbread into crumbs. I like to use a food processor for this and then do the cheese at the same time.
Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a large baking dish.
In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk pretty constantly for 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk. Add the onion, garlic, oregano, and nutmeg. Simmer, whisking occasionally until it begins to thicken.
Gradually whisk in the grated cheeses, stirring each batch to incorporate.
Taste the sauce, and adjust the seasoning to your preference. It will probably need a little salt, but maybe not too much depending on the cheeses. Remember that the sauce should be pretty intense because it is going to be diluted by a full pound of pasta.
Stir the macaroni into the sauce. Pour the macaroni into the prepared pan. Mix in all three peppers. Taste again and make any final adjustments.
Top with the cornbread crumbs. You might not need all of them but I like a pretty thick layer.
Cover with tinfoil and bake for about 30 minutes, until it is bubbling around the sides. Remove the tinfoil and bake 10 more minutes until the cornbread crumbs are turning golden brown. You might need to carefully deploy the broiler.
Let stand for 5-10 minutes (to set) and serve.