A hefty bowl of Macaroni and Cheese may just be the quintessential comfort food. Equipped with the non-confrontational taste kids go for, it’s hard to argue with Macaroni and Cheese. Like grilled cheese sandwiches, which I can’t seem to stop talking about lately, Macaroni and Cheese is very simplistic in its requirements. All this soothing dish entails is pasta, cheese, butter, milk, breadcrumbs and a few odds and ends. As with anything minimalistic, the room for embellishment is seemingly endless.
Call me crazy, but I’ve never been a big fan of macaroni. I prefer a larger, meatier piece of pasta. The three times my mother actually made Macaroni and Cheese for my siblings and I (my mother is a very health conscious lady and I think she found it difficult to put that much butter and cheese into a single dish) she used penne instead of macaroni and crushed saltines instead of breadcrumbs. To me this will always be Macaroni and Cheese, despite the absence of one of the dish’s headliners.
Like the Mac and Cheese of my youth, this week’s recipe is mac-less. It may not look like a take on Macaroni and Cheese, but trust me it is. I took the predictable pasta dish and transformed into a creamy inferno called Cheesy Mexican Penne. I was hopelessly hungry while I was fixing this so I opted to keep it stove top and not bake it, but if you possess that virtue called patience, by all means pop it in the oven.
This Cheesy Mexican Penne follows all the usual steps of it predecessor, but the addition of tomatoes, jalapenos, red pepper and onion lend a zesty complex flavor to the dish. A few heaping spoonfuls of habanero salsa ups the spice factor without over powering the velvety cheesy sauce. This dish is endlessly satisfying and the picture of spicy decadence.
The perfect pick-me-up as the temperatures continue to drop, this Cheesy Mexican Penne will have you feeling like you’re south of the border.
Cheesy Mexican Penne: Serves 6
450g dried penne
4 tbsp flour
4 tbsp butter
2 cups half and half
1 ½ cup cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ red onion, diced
½ red pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, deseeded and diced
1 Roma tomato, diced
1 ½ tbsp Dijon mustard
4 tbsp habanero salsa
Salt and Pepper to taste
Place a large pot of water to boil over high heat.
Once boiling, salt the water liberally and add pasta.
Cook until al dente and drain and rinse the pasta and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Whisk in flour to form a paste.
Slowly add half and half, whisking after each addition until sauce is creamy and smooth.
Season with salt and pepper and add cheese.
Stir mixture until the cheese is completely melted.
Reduce heat and add veggies, mustard and salsa.
Allow to cook for five minutes until the vegetables are slightly softened.
Taste and season accordingly with salt and pepper.
Pour sauce over waiting pasta and stir to combine.
Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve.