The switch has flipped. One day it’s summer, the next it’s the new school year which is synonymous with fall for me. As if on cue the weather has become cool, dreary and rainy. Of course this may only last a day or two but it gives me hope that perhaps our fall won’t be plagued by 100 degree weather presenting the worry of kids in non air-conditioned classrooms collapsing of heat stroke.
The fortuitous change in the weather coincides perfectly with my focus on delicious, fast meals to wedge into a busy after school routine without sacrificing flavor. Though my world is dictated by the school year, yours may not be. Before I had children and when I was working full time I frankly had the same goal of fast food that wasn’t ‘fast food’ by cultural definition, after a long, exhausting work day. Kicking off the high heels and sinking into the couch with a platter of sliced cheese, crackers and some wine was a fine dinner for me but not every night.
I have always loved Macaroni and Cheese. Starting with the stuff in the box that was tinted the most unnatural color of orange and probably only tasted like the essence of cheese, but I didn’t care. Were I only given the choice of two foods for the rest of my life I’d easily would have chosen Mac-and-Cheese and Peanut Butter (not together of course). My palate has expanded from those young years but I still love both of those foods!
After becoming gluten-free, homemade Mac and Cheese was the only option for my family and in the process I realized how fantastic the dish could truly be. I also discovered how nimble the base recipe is for changing things up. It can be swayed any number of cuisine directions by a change of cheese, adding different proteins or with some savvy seasoning.
Fall is chile pepper season in Colorado. The smell of roasting chilies can be found at our Farmer’s Markets and the varieties available in the stores triple. Fancying a fall dish with some zing I decided to whip up a Southwestern-inspired roasted green chile and chicken Mac-and-Cheese reminding me of another favorite comfort food; the chicken enchilada. To make it more fun I prepared the dish in personal size cast iron skillets. The recipe has a beautifully golden, crisp top with creamy, spicy pasta waiting below. It’s a wonderfully warming dish that sticks to your ribs while not being ‘your Mama’s Macaroni and Cheese’!
Soul-warming comfort food inspired by the Southwestern flavors of Roasted Green Chilies and Chicken. The spice-heat of the dish can be managed through the chile types used and the amount of Pepper Jack cheese. As written this recipe has moderate heat just perfect for cooler weather.
- 1 16-ounce package elbow pasta (I use Tinkyada Brown Rice Elbow pasta which is gluten free)
- 1 ½ teaspoons plus 3 tablespoons Unsalted Butter
- ½ cup Yellow Onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons (gluten-free or regular) Flour
- 2 cups milk
- 3/4 cups grated Mexican Cheese blend*
- ¼ cup Pepper Jack cheese, grated or cubed
- 1 ½ cup Roasted Chicken
- 2 large (5-6 inch) Anaheim Chilies**
- 1 Serrano Chile
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 1 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 6-2 ½ cup oven proof containers or a large casserole dish (to hold 12 cups).
- Roasting the Chile Peppers: Place the chile peppers on a baking sheet underneath the broiler. Checking often, allow to blacken on each side. Remove from oven and place either in a plastic zipper bag OR in a heatproof bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove from container or bag and remove the blackened skin by rubbing or pulling it off leaving only the soft flesh of the pepper. Remove top with stem, slice vertically and scrape out the seeds with a dinner knife (non sharp). Chop and set aside. Wash hands thoroughly after handling the chilies and if choosing hotter varieties consider wearing protective vinyl or latex gloves.
- Boil water and prepare pasta to package instructions.
- While pasta is cooking, melt 1 ½ teaspoons butter in a medium skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until they are translucent; about 5 minutes. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat melt the 3 tablespoons butter. Whisk in the flour, as well as salt and pepper. When it is well combined, slowly pour in the milk whisking the whole time to avoid burning the mixture. Continue to whisk until the mixture begins to thicken noticeably (5-10 minutes).
- Add the cheese (both types) to the flour/milk mixture and stir constantly until cheese has melted.
- When pasta is cooked, rinse, drain well and return to the cooking pot. Pour in the cheese sauce, cooked onions, roasted chilies and chopped chicken; stir well to fully combine. Add more salt and pepper to taste if needed. Spoon into cooking container(s). If cooking in personal size containers cook 30 minutes and 40 minutes if in a casserole dish or until the macaroni develops a nice, brown crust on the top.
- Remove from oven to cool slightly and serve.
*I use a prepared organic Mexican cheese blend from Horizon comprised of grated Cheddar, Colby and Monterey Jack cheeses. You can blend your own from scratch as well. To increase the heat add more Pepper Jack and cut back on the milder cheeses to make 1 cup total.
**Anaheim chilies are typically very mild giving the chile flavor without much heat. Serrano chiles are very spicy. Should you want to increase the heat from the chilies substituting some Jalapeno chilies would work well.