Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mexican Mac and Cheese

I couldn't help myself, didn't even try to resist the impulse. I just raced headlong into macaroni and cheese production, ready to enjoy several versions of that savory dish. Everyone makes some version of mac 'n cheese, right? You start with short tube pasta, make a white sauce, add cheese, toss in some seasonings etc. and bake. It's the choice of cheeses and "seasonings etc." that make the difference. Oh what a difference!

Mom's traditional recipe called for Velveeta, and while I loved it as a child, I'm over it. Seattle's Blue Onion Bistro (now defunct) featured a tangy blue cheese version (link) that was interesting once, but never my absolute favorite. Martha Stewart's recipe (link) is terrific and has a posse of followers, while other crowds favor Ina Garten's (link) or a host of others. I like change and tend to experiment with a variety of cheeses and add-ins, whatever sounds interesting at the moment. Seafood mac 'n cheese? why not? Greek mac 'n cheese with merguez sausage? yum. Southwest or Mexi mac 'n cheese? yes, please.

What prompted this particular carb-cooking spree? I'm not sure there was one specific reason, but it might have been due to...

  • Seattle's recent dry spell, a 49-day near-record run, that ended with a few days of cool, wet and windy weather. Okay, okay,  only .01 inch of rain was recorded, but it was cool and windy weather and perfect for comfort food.
  •  RL, who doesn't do mac 'n cheese, was still out of town; that meant I could cook whatever I liked, guilt free, with no funny comments to listen to.
  • Poblano peppers really needed to be used or they would grow wrinkly and wither away. Not a good excuse? It worked for me. 
Restraint finally kicked in and I made a few small casseroles, two servings worth each, so willpower shouldn't be an issue. They will reheat easily and can be frozen, both bonus features when preparing comfort food. 

Plain Mac 'n Cheese is a tasty dish, and pepping it up with some heat takes it over the top in deliciousness. Who can resist pasta, chorizo, onions and hot peppers smothered in a spicy cheese sauce and topped with buttered bread crumbs. Not me. Full disclosure: I ate two helpings at lunch and settled for a small green salad for dinner - it was worth it! And now I need to swim a gazillion laps to work off some of that comfort. Sigh.

Southwest Pasta (aka Mexi Mac 'n Cheese)

2 cups cavatappi pasta (or elbows, penne or another short, hollow shape)
4 oz Mexican chorizo sausage (or use 1 tsp chipotle chili powder and 1 tsp smoky Spanish paprika)
1 poblano pepper, diced
1/2 white onion, diced
1/2 cup frozen Mexicorn (optional)
2 tablespoons butter
1 rounded tablespoon flour
2 cups milk (I use 1%, but a bit more cream add extra richness)
1 cup pepperjack cheese, chunks or shreds
1/2 cup sharp cheddar, chunks or shreds
salt and pepper to taste
several dashes of hot sauce (green tabasco, CajunSunshine, etc)
1/4 cup panko or fresh, buttered breadcrumbs


  1. Preheat the oven to 35o degrees F.
  2. Cook the pasta until just al dente. Drain and set aside.
  3. Use a small sauté pan to cook the chorizo over medium heat until it releases its spicy oil; you want it cooked but not crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  4. Saute the vegetables in the same pan until soft but not browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  5. In a medium pan, melt the butter over medium heat and stir in the flour. Cook, stirring frequently, until the flour begins to color. Add the milk slowly, stirring constantly to avoid clumping, and cook until the sauce smooths and begins to thicken. Add the cheese, a few handfuls at a time, and stir to blend. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste.
  6. Add the pasta, chorizo and cooked vegetables to the sauce; mix gently with a spatula to coat. Pour into a buttered small casserole dish and pat down gently but firmly. Sprinkle panko or breadcrumbs over the top; bake for 30-40 minutes until the cheese bubbles and the topping browns.
  7. Remove from the oven and let the dish sit on a rack for 5 minutes to firm up the sauce a bit. Dish up a generous helping and enjoy... a bit of heaven on a plate.


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