This twist on mac & cheese reminds me of a milder version of white queso dip- with the added texture of elbow noodles. It's creamy and mildly spicy from a hand-grated block of pepper Jack cheese and chopped tri-color mini peppers. I prefer just a light green salad along side and perhaps some take-n-bake breadsticks with homemade garlic rub (garlic rub method at bottom of page!) This is comforting food, fit for anytime of year.
Note: gluten-free noodles don't play nice in this recipe.
"Don't get stressed when you see the word 'roux', it's nothing more than stirring melted butter with flour to form a paste, then whisking in milk."
Notes: Butter is unsalted. Milk is 2%.
PEPPER JACK MAC & CHEESE
Ingredients: 12 oz. elbow noodles, 3 tbsp. butter, 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 2 cups milk, 1 tsp. dried mustard, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 8-10 oz. grated pepper Jack cheese, 5-6 mini bell peppers in red, orange and yellow, 1 red chili pepper (optional).
1. Preheat oven to 350*. Chop peppers, removing seeds and inner membranes. Set aside.
2. Cook noodles in very salty water until just al dente. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup pasta water, and set aside.
3. Make roux: Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour and stir until a paste is formed, keep stirring and cooking for 2 minutes, until the roux starts to color and lose the floury smell.
4. Whisk milk into the roux and keep stirring until the milk thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Stir in dried mustard, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and finally, the grated Jack cheese- reserving 1/2 cup of the cheese aside.
5. Tip in the noodles and bell peppers and stir to coat fully in the cheese sauce. Pour into 10-inch cast-iron skillet or 9x13 baking dish. Top with remaining Jack cheese. Bake covered for 25-30 minutes until heated through and bubbling around the edges.
Tip: PRO-level garlic rub for 12-16 oz. take-n-bake bread: Slice 1 peeled garlic clove in half, rub the cut side over the take-n-bake bread, then bake according to package directions. At the half-way point, remove and spread on this mixture: 3 tbsp. softened butter stirred with 1 minced garlic clove, 1/2 tsp. paprika, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. dried parsley, 1 tsp. finely grated Parmesan cheese.