Springtime was a bit of a tease this past weekend in the South. The weather was stunning in the North Carolina mountains with crystal clear, dark blue skies and billowy white clouds. A cool breeze reminded us that we were still in the month of March, but days like these are a sign that warmer temperatures will soon be with us for the long stretch of spring and summer.
With the official start of spring in just two days, I am excited about the change of seasons and how that will impact what I am able to cook with the availability of local fresh produce and fruit. While some foods seem to be more appropriate for certain seasons, like acorn squash in the winter or beautiful, ripe strawberries in the spring, there are other foods that we enjoy year-round, no matter what the weather. Comfort foods like macaroni and cheese are perfect on a cold, snowy day with meatloaf and veggies or at a summer barbecue served with grilled pork chops or steak and salad. If the dish is hearty enough, it can be served as the main course.
There are countless macaroni and cheese recipes, some cheesier and creamier than others, however, many of them are uniform in flavor throughout and don’t have any real pop. Typically, mac and cheese piled high is bite after bite with the first taste the same as the last. I decided to change that with this recipe and made Kicked Up Mac and Cheese with a bit of a Latin flair.
The flavors are perfectly balanced in this dish with the combination of a bit of heat from the Hot Mexican-Style Chili Powder and the subtle smokiness from the Hickory Smoked Jarlsberg cheese. I added smoked chorizo and chopped, roasted poblano pepper for texture and a unique taste in each bite. When local fresh corn is in season, be sure to try the recipe with the addition of roasted yellow corn. It will certainly become one of your favorite unique mac and cheese recipes.
The béchamel sauce made with three cheeses creates the creamy base for your other ingredients. Jarlsberg, Hickory Smoked Jarlsberg, and Gruyère are a rich and savory blend of cheeses. Topped with Jarlsberg and Gruyère, when baked, they create a gorgeous cheesy crust that begs you to take a bite. Of course, you will never be able to take just one bite of this indulgent mac and cheese.
BTW, Jarlsberg is sponsoring a great giveaway on Facebook that you might be interested in. It ends March 31, 2013, so hurry over to enter.
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Kicked Up Macaroni and Cheese
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
For Mac and cheese:
1 roasted poblano pepper, diced (about 1/4 cup)
2 links smoked chorizo sausage (6 ounces), 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup roasted, fresh yellow corn (optional)
8 ounces elbow macaroni, cooked al dente (about 4 minutes less than suggested cooking time)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 cups whole milk
2 cups half and half
Several grinds freshly ground white pepper (approx. 1/8 teaspoon)
6 ounces grated Jarlsberg
6 ounces grated Hickory Smoked Jarlsberg
6 ounces grated Gruyère
3/4 to 1 teaspoon Hot Mexican-Style Chili Powder, to taste
1 cup grated Jarlsberg (approximately 3 ounces)
1 cup grated Gruyère (approximately 3 ounces)
Four 16-ounce mini casserole dishes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease four individual 16-ounce mini-casserole dishes (alternatively, you could use a 2-quart casserole dish, but you will have to adjust cooking time).
Combine the first three ingredients in a large bowl (or four, if you are using the roasted corn). Set aside.
Mix together the two cheeses for the topping and set aside.
Melt butter over medium-low heat. When the butter stops foaming, quickly add the flour and stir with a whisk to combine, making a roux. Reduce the heat to low, add the Kosher salt and stir constantly for a few minutes. In a steady stream, add the milk, while stirring constantly, followed by the half and half. Turn the heat to medium and cook the mixture, continuing to stir with a whisk, until it begins to thicken slightly. Add the freshly ground white pepper, grated Jarlsberg, Hickory Smoked Jarlsberg, and Gruyère. Stir over low heat until the cheese is melted. Add the Hot Mexican-Style Chili Powder, to taste. Check for seasonings.
Immediately pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni mixture, stirring to thoroughly combine. (The mixture will be a little loose, but will thicken as the macaroni absorbs the sauce while baking.) Distribute evenly into the mini casserole dishes. Top with the grated cheeses and place the casserole dishes on a baking sheet.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until mixture is bubbly and beginning to brown around the edges. Place under the broiler for a few minutes, checking constantly, until topping is the desired doneness. Serve immediately.
Original recipe by Gwen Pratesi