Jalapeño Mac & Cheese
I have made my share of homemade macaroni & cheese with various noodle shapes, cheeses, and garlic olive oil breadcrumbs, but never, in all my experience, had I ever thought of adding jalapeños. It happened during one of the many sultry evenings in the Nica kitchen as I mustered all available ingredients to see what would accompany our chicken barbecue dinner. We had cheese, we had bread, we had spiral noodles, we had milk, and we even had garlic, onions, and butter. So, naturally, easy homemade mac & cheese would make the perfect side dish. R discovered that we also had jalapeños and suggested we throw those in. Although I have always been wary of R trying to tweak my recipes on the fly, especially after suggesting adding regular potatoes to my traditional Thanksgiving yam dish (uh, no!), I will give him full credit for helping me make the best macaroni & cheese (con jalapeños) his parents have ever had!
- Package of spiral, shell, fusilli, elbow, or shape you prefer of noodles. Noodles can vary depending on your preference- just be careful not to overcook them and be wary of quinoa ones that tend to cook quickly and come out mushy.
- At least 16oz of cheese, or more depending on how much pasta you are using. I prefer a mix of sharp cheddar and Monterey jack. Either blocks or pre-shredded packages. The shredded Mexican mix works great!- which is what we had in the Nica kitchen.
- One whole white or yellow onion finely diced
- A few garlic cloves chopped finely or mashed
- A couple of jalapeños finely diced- again, depending on how much pasta you are using. Also depends on how spicy you want it. I usually use one large jalapeño.
- Milk (almond milk works well also!)
- 2 or 3 slices of bread (any bread you prefer- I always have Dave’s Killer Bread on hand, in the Cali kitchen that is)
- At least half a stick of butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 375 F.
Boil the noodles until al dente- not entirely soft. Add a tablespoon of oil (I suggest olive oil) to the water used for boiling so the noodles don’t stick to each other. Once cooked, drain and set aside.
Toast 2 or 3 slices of bread until crispy but not burnt. Over a mixing bowl, rub the bread, one slice at a time, between your palms, creating breadcrumbs. Add the garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and toss. Set aside.*
In a deep, medium or large sized frying pan on medium heat, melt the butter and throw in the chopped onion and jalapeno pepper(s). Add a few shakes of salt and pepper, and cook until the onions are soft, but not mushy.
Stir in the milk, followed by the cheese until it all melts. If the mixture seems too runny, add a pinch of flour.
Add in the cooked pasta and stir gently until evenly coated with the cheesy sauce.
Place the pasta and cheese mixture into a casserole like or rectangular baking dish. The dish should only cover the pan at a height of 1.5 to 2 inches max. Another idea is to sauté the butter, onions, jalapeno, milk, and cheese in a cast iron pan, then add the noodles and use this as your baking dish.
Spread the pasta and cheese mixture evenly and add an even layer of the garlicky breadcrumbs over the dish. For an extra cheese boost, sprinkle some cheese over the breadcrumbs.
Put the dish in the oven and bake until the breadcrumbs are golden brown- about 15 minutes or so.
Take out of the oven and let it cool for at least five minutes.
That’s it, as simple as that! You can be sure that any cheese lover with an appreciation of an extra bite will declare your Jalapeno Mac & Cheese the best ever tasted!
*Feel free to use any breadcrumb mixture you prefer. Sometimes I toss the crumbs with fresh chopped or crushed dry parsley and a little bit of olive oil. However, I always use garlic and sliced bread. I never buy pre-made breadcrumbs, and I don’t have a reason why, I just never do.