Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Macaroni and Cheese with Poblano Chiles

I have no memory of ever eating baked, crumb-topped macaroni and cheese as a child. My experience seems to have been limited entirely to the stuff in the blue box. It was one of the first things I learned to make (along with condensed canned soup), but I never got past that. In fact, I can’t even directly trace how I ever learned to make mac and cheese from scratch at all.

I haven’t posted any straight-up mac and cheese recipes on The Messy Apron. (This recipe could be considered a variation with extra stuff in it.) Probably the biggest reason is that I usually don’t measure the ingredients. I typically just boil up about half a box of noodles, make a roux with roughly equal amounts of butter and flour, turn it into a b├ęchamel sauce by adding, I don’t know, some milk, and turning that into cheese sauce by melting in a few big handfuls of cheese. Sometimes I stir the sauce into the noodles and eat it right away. Sometimes I spoon it into a casserole dish, top it with buttered breadcrumbs and bake it.

This time, I did the latter, but I also added roasted poblano chile peppers and a good dose of smoked paprika. Oh, and I also measured the ingredients so I could tell you about my macaroni and cheese in recipe form.

Not too long ago (in this post and this post), I was substituting for poblanos with a combination of bell pepper and hot chiles, largely to avoid somewhat inconvenient extra shopping trips. Well, while I was picking up my must-have apples and squash, I grabbed some poblanos that happened to be at the same market so I could put exactly that ingredient in my cheesy noodles. Poblano chiles kind of look like extra dark green, extra skinny bell peppers, but they’re actually pretty spicy (although less spicy than little chiles). These were a bit past their prime by the time I photographed them. If you’re picking out fresh ones to buy, you probably could do better than these wrinkly-skinned ones, though they were just fine to eat.

I loved the slightly spicy addition to my macaroni and cheese. Just as much, I loved the chile flavor beyond its spice and the smokiness added by roasting the peppers and by the smoked paprika. You wouldn’t have to add these extras to make good mac and cheese. (This is not a particularly creamy, gooey version, though it is quite cheesy. Add milk to the sauce to make it creamier.)  You could also simply add the roasted chiles and/or smoked paprika to your favorite macaroni and cheese recipe. Especially if you like the idea of those flavors and are an expert at your own style of the dish…and don’t want to be so formal as to measure anything.


Macaroni and Cheese with Roasted Poblanos and Smoked Paprika
I used the broiler to roast my chiles, but you could also use a grill. There are more details on roasting peppers in this post. I highly recommend using rubber gloves to handle the chiles.

2 medium poblano chiles
8 ounces dry macaroni noodles
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
6 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese, about 2 firmly packed cups
1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (I used whole wheat)

1. Preheat broiler (or gas or charcoal grill). Place the chiles on a foil lined baking sheet. Place the baking sheet on a rack on the top position in the oven just under the broiler. (Or place the chiles directly on the grate of a grill.) Broil until the skin of the chiles is blackened and blistered all over. Turn the chiles to expose all sides to the heat. Remove from the oven and place in a medium-size bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand until cool enough to handle.

2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Using rubber gloves to protect your hands from the peppers, peel the blackened skin from the chiles and discard. Remove the stem, core and seeds from the peppers and discard. Finely chop the remaining pepper flesh and set aside.

3. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until slightly firmer than you would eat it.  Drain and set aside.

4. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Stir or whisk in the flour and cook, stirring frequently to keep the flour from forming lumps, for a minute or two.

5. Stir in the milk. Cook over medium-low to medium heat, stirring frequently, scraping the bottom of the pan to keep the sauce from scorching, until the sauce boils. Boil for about 30 seconds to 1 minute or until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat.

6. Stir in the cheese and smoked paprika. Place the cooked noodles in a large bowl (or, as I do, in the emptied pasta-cooking pot). Pour over the cheese sauce and stir to coat the noodles. Stir in the roasted chiles. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning if desired. (Actually, you could eat the macaroni and cheese at this point and you wouldn’t have to bake it with the breadcrumb topping if you don’t want to wait.)

7. Spoon the macaroni and cheese into a 2 quart baking dish. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and melted butter. Stir to coat the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top of the macaroni and cheese.

8. Bake at 375 F for about 20 minutes or until the topping is brown and crisp and the inside is bubbly throughout.

Makes about 6 servings. (4 if everyone’s hungry.)


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