Friday, January 6, 2012

Poblano Penne and Cheese

Posted by Emily

I was thrilled when Amber announced the secret ingredient for January is penne pasta. I know we’re all supposed to avoid or eat less carbs, but I will tell you, with pride, that I LOVE pasta and we eat it all the time!

I have a standard penne pasta recipe I make (quite often) that consists of Italian sausage, caramelized onions, mascarpone cheese, broccoli, bell peppers and lots and lots of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Fortunately, Curtis likes this dish as much as I do. But since this blog is about broadening our horizons, I decided to try a new recipe.

When Megan posted her recipe for Honeycrisp Apple Sangria, she introduced me to yet another food blog which I’m now following: Nutmeg Nanny. In Nutmeg Nanny’s 2011 round up she posted this poblano pepper macaroni and cheese recipe as one of her top 10 recipes of the year.

I love macaroni and cheese and from the moment I first tasted Beecher’s macaroni and cheese in Pike Place Market I realized “macaroni” and cheese should always be made with penne pasta, not macaroni. My two favorite homemade mac n’ cheese recipes are Beecher’s and a Leek and Manchego recipe from Food & Wine magazine, both of which I always make with penne.

Not only was this obviously a top recipe but I was intrigued by adding chilies, lime zest and cilantro to mac n’ cheese. I love the idea of putting a Southwest spin on one of the best dishes known to man (and woman). And I also loved that Nutmeg Nanny made her mac n’ cheese in a cast iron skillet vs. a square baking dish. Makes for a much better photo opp and presentation!

Next time Curtis has his smoker fired up, I’ll pop a couple of poblano chilies on to soak up a smoky flavor for smoked poblano penne and cheese. But this time, as I followed the recipe and broiled the poblano peppers I was instantly transformed back to freshman year of college. The two boys who lived across the hall from us (now lifelong friends) were from Santa Fe and they’d cook chili peppers and who knows what else in their dorm room and stink up our entire floor!

My favorite cheese to use for macaroni and cheese (and for everything else, really) is Coastal Cheddar. But when I was at Costco picking it up, I noticed they also had Beecher’s No Woman, so I grabbed a block of that too. Since this recipe kicks it up a notch, I figured spicy cheese would only add to it!

The verdict? Really good! Curtis named it as one of his top three macaroni and cheese recipes (although I think Beecher's and the leek recipes may fall into 1st and 2nd place). It had some spice and good flavor. I gave Curtis the option of salad or broccoli on the side and he picked broccoli (guess he thinks like Ansen) and for dessert – the most important part - we had Costco pistachio gelato with homemade Kahlua hot fudge sauce (what New Year’s Resolution???).

Poblano Penne and Cheese
Adapted from Nutmeg Nanny and The Homesick Texan Cookbook Spotlight & Cook-Off

3 Poblano chilies
16 oz. penne pasta
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cloves of minced garlic (I used more!)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon mustard powder (I didn’t have any so I squired in some hot mustard)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or cayenne powder like the recipe called for)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon lime zest (I just zested the whole lime)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (couldn’t find fresh, so used a paste)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups grated white cheddar (I used ½ Coastal and ½ No Woman No Cry)
1/2 cup feta cheese

Roast the poblano chilies under the broiler until blackened, about 5 minutes per side. Place the chilies in a paper sack or plastic food-storage bag, close it tightly, and let sit for 20 minutes. Take the chilies out of the bag and rub off the skin – I wore gloves, and this step is kind of fun! Remove the stem and seeds and chop the chilies into 1-inch long pieces (make sure you get all the seeds out, I left a few in and they are H-O-T-hot!).

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook al dente (about 6 minutes); it will cook more in the cheese sauce in the oven. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375. Grease a large baking dish or a large cast-iron skillet.
In a pot (you can use the pot the pasta cooked in or you can do this while the pasta boils), on low heat melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the flour and cook until a light brown, toasty paste is formed, about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and stir until it’s thickened a bit but still fluid, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the mustard powder, cayenne, cumin, lime zest, cilantro, and chopped poblano chilies. Adjust seasonings and add salt and black pepper.

Slowly add half of the cheddar cheese and stir until it’s melted and well combined into the sauce. (If the sauce has cooled too much and the cheese won’t melt, return the pot to low heat on the stove seems a little thick return it to the stove until soft again. If however, the sauce gets too thick, like custard, you can thin it by stirring in milk, a teaspoon at a time.)

Mix the pasta in with the sauce and pour it into your baking dish or cast iron pan. Sprinkle the remaining half of the cheddar cheese over the top and bake uncovered for 20 minutes or until brown and bubbling. Sprinkle with feta cheese, broil for a minute or two, and serve immediately.

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  1. That sounds really, really good! I think Adam would be all over this!

  2. You are in a fiery, spicy food mood lately, I love it! This looks delicious!

  3. What would I ever make for dinner without you? This sounds amazing!

  4. We have a bunch of No Woman in the fridge and I've been wondering what to do with it! Good idea :)

  5. Carbs... check. Cheese... check! Kahlua fudge sauce for dessert?? You've got my top three foods!!! Love the use of the cast iron, too! I'm positive that smoked poblanos would take this recipe to another level!!