POBLANO MAC & CHEESE
Who doesn’t love this ultimate comfort food? My favorite version is the one I had (many, many times) at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, when Max attended the University of Michigan. That very Mac and Cheese was honored with the Food Network’s top award for Comfort Food. It’s cooked in a cast iron skillet, uses artisanal (aka $$$) dried pasta, raw milk cheddar cheese ($$$), and whole milk from nearby farms in Ann Arbor.
Fast forward to my local Trader Joe’s, which, for the last 2 years, has buried a treasure in its freezer section in the form of Hatch Chili Mac and Cheese. Now we’re talking – adding some smoky heat to M&C elevates comfort food to a new level. And besides eating a whole pot-ful on Mother's Day, I could whip this up for a crowd on 5 de Mayo!
But you know me by now, I’m a from-scratch girl, so I had to figure out a riff on both that would deliver the crispy cheesiness of Zingerman’s, make a version equally delicious but a bit more affordable, and add the smoky heat of TJ’s version. And because Hatch chilis have such a short growing season, I had to find an year-round sub – and I did, the humble, but delicious POBLANO pepper.
KIDDOCJJ tip: you can purchase several poblanos, roast, skin and seed them, and FREEZE the rest for future kitchen projects. This saves so much work in the long run. Roasted poblanos are divine in eggs, quiches, chopped up and added to tacos, salsas, added to corn salads in the summer – you name it, they can easily find a home!
What you need:
- large cast iron skillet or heavy frying pan
- 4 quart or larger pot
- open flame from gas stove or broiler
- 2 medium poblano chilis – washed
- ½ pound dried large tubular pasta – preferably with grooves like rigatoni, penne or paccheri
- ½ medium onion – chopped
- 1/3 stick unsalted butter
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 TB all purpose flour
- 4 ounces ½ and ½ mixed with 4 ounces chicken, veggie stock or white wine
- 1 tsp Dijon or grainy mustard
- ½ pound grated white cheddar (the crumblier the better)
- 1 TB olive oil
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- fresh lime wedges and chopped cilantro for garnish
1. Put a pot of water on to boil on high, add 1 TB salt. Add dried pasta and turn down to medium. Cook 10-12 minutes, according to package directions until al dente. Drain, rinse with cool water and set aside.
2. Char and clean your poblanos. To learn how, click here.
3. Let's re-use that same pot that boiled your pasta, and put it back on the stove with the butter.
4. Melt the butter, and saute the onions on medium until they are light gold and translucent.
5. Add the flour all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon or whisk until the mixture is light tan in color. Add the ½ and ½, followed by the stock or wine (in a pinch you can use beer!), and whisk rapidly off the heat to incorporate. Return the pan to low, and continue stirring until thickened and bubbling.
6. Remove the bay leaf.
7. Add the grated cheese, a handful at a time. and whisk with each addition until melted. Stir in the cumin. Lastly add the poblanos and any accumulated juices and mix. Add in the cooled pasta and mix until the pasta is coated with sauce. At this point you can stop and hold the dish if you are making your meal later.
8. Heat up your cast iron or heavy saucepan over medium-high until it is really hot. Quickly add the olive oil, and then turn the pasta mixture into the pan and LEAVE IT ALONE FOR 2-3 MINUTES or until a deep brown crust forms. With a spatula, turn over the nmac to brown another aspect, again for 2-3 minutes.
9. Once the mac and cheese is about 1/3 browned with all that crispy cheesy goodness, it's time to serve!
10. Sprinkle on some cilantro and a spritz of lime juice, and if you really love heat, a few more chopped poblanos. OLE!