I've been excited about doing a mac and cheese with my own special twist since I got a lovely handmade clay casserole dish as a wedding gift from my Aunt Stacy. As soon as I would think of what to put in it to make the dish my own (something seasonal...it was almost always something seasonal) I would get too busy to bring it all together and more than a few times the seasonal ingredients I was thinking of incorporating went out of season. I realized that was no excuse. Especially when I tasted this Macaroni and Cheese Casserole with Spicy Beef and Roasted Zucchini and Pasilla Peppers. Fatty, spicy beef sauteed in caramelized onions helped offset the tanginess of extra sharp cheddar, which I prefer to use in abundance. The sweet caramelization on the zucchini and onions sweetened the casserole a bit and helped to harmonize the flavors. And because this casserole was heavily inspired by dishes of Mexico the "breadcrumb" topping is crushed tortilla chips. It was the casserole dish that got me started, but in the end I didn't use it. After eyeing the amount of each ingredient I wanted to use I realized it would never fit into my adorably small clay casserole dish. When we tasted the final product we did not mind in the least that we had made more than we thought we would. This is a great once in a while indulgence and is sure to keep you warm on these cold winter nights. :)
Mexican Inspired Mac and Cheese with Spicy Beef and Roasted Pasilla Peppers and Zucchini
1 1/2 - 2 cups grated cheddar cheese*
3/4 pound ground organic beef 85/15 lean
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 Teaspoon hot sauce of choice (we prefer sriracha)
4 Tablespoons Unsalted butter plus 1/2 Tablespoon
4 Tablespoons all purpose flour
salt, to taste
fresh ground pepper, to taste
2 large pasilla or poblano (also called ancho chilies), diced (excluding the seeds and ribs)**
3 medium white zucchinis, roasted in thick lengthwise slices in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes per side and sliced vertically into 1/4" strips
3/4 pound macaroni
1 pinch of nutmeg (less than 1/4 teaspoon)
1/4 teaspoon, plus a pinch of cumin powder
1 pinch cayenne (less than 1/4 teaspoon)
1 ounce tortilla chips, pulverized into breadcrumb consistency
3 cups whole milk
1. In a large pan over medium heat melt butter and saute onions for 2 - 3 minutes. Add cayenne, 1/4 teaspoon cumin powder and a very small amount of salt and saute for 30 - 90 seconds more.
2. Add ground beef and break it up into little crumbles in the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beef is brown all the way through.
3. As the beef cooks toss macaroni noodles into salted boiling water and cook according to the package directions.
4. When the beef is cooked combine beef, noodles, diced peppers and chopped zucchinis into the dish you will be baking your macaroni and cheese in. I used a deep 9 x 13" lasagna baking dish.
5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a saucepan melt butter. When butter is entirely melted add nutmeg and a pinch of cumin powder and toast the spices in the butter for approximately one minute. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking somewhat lazily, until the flour begins to turn darker brown.
6. When the flour has turned brown immediately start to add milk, at first a tablespoon at a time until the mixture goes from rough to shiny. Then start to add the milk in much larger quantities, like 1/3 to 1/2 cup at a time.
7. With heat at medium low cook the mixture until in begins to thicken into a gravy, about 10 minutes. Whisk about every 60 to 90 seconds and be sure to reincorporate the yummy roux that collects along the sides.
8. Pour gravy into baking dish with the other ingredients. Mix in cheese and top with pulverized tortilla chips.
9. Bake in oven until the tortilla crumbs begin to brown, about 20 - 30 minutes.
10. Serve hot and enjoy!
I hope you enjoyed this recipe and I welcome your feedback!
*the pre grated stuff has potato starch on it, so I recommend grating it freshly yourself
**To roast the peppers: cook for 8 - 10 minutes under a broiler preheated to 400 degrees, turn them over and broil for anoter 7 minutes; steam skins off by putting still hot peppers in a large, sturdy ziploc and sealing them loosely to allow the steam inside the peppers to slough the skin off. Leave them in the ziploc for about 20 minutes, then remove them and the skin will peel easily off. Remove all skin, then slit the peppers open to easily scrape the seeds and ribs out with a spoon.