This is my “I have a couple, three, ten things on my mind” food.
This is my “I might be having a bad day” food.
This is my “I’m glad Spring has sprung but that doesn’t mean that I’m ready to be assaulted 24/7 by advertisements for swimwear” food.
Roger that on the bad mood.
Somebody once told me that the body will naturally crave whatever it is lacking.
I personally have never heard of a Mac & Cheese Deficiency, but assuming it exists, I’ve been suffering something fierce.
There are so many different theories on proper mac & cheese -to breadcrumb or not to breadcrumb, cheese type, assorted other fillers and seasonings- but whichever way you slice it, I think it’s pretty much impossible to not make a comforting mac & cheese.
Chihuahua cheese is my cheese of choice. South of the border, where it originates, t’s most commonly used in quesadillas. Chihuahua melts like a gem and, flavor-wise, is cheddar’s doppelganger. If you don’t have access to Chihuahua cheese, you can easily substitute a medium or sharp cheddar in this mac.
And don’t skimp on the Manchego. Don’t do it!
I really like the flavor that you get from the blend of the two cheeses. I think you’ll like it too.
Of course, we have to make a cream sauce to hold everything together. And we’re making an ancho chile one!
The ancho adds a really nice kick without being overpowering. Ancho chiles also have a lovely, slightly smoky flavor that goes beyond just the raw heat that you’ll get from other chiles.
And as you will see below, I opted to breadcrumb my mac.
I like a world where breadcrumbs are involved. I also like a world where ‘breadcrumb’ can be a verb.
Things are coming together nicely, don’t you think? As they should on a day when your mood is suspect and you’re Mac + Cheese Deficiency is flaring up.
Once you assemble, everything comes together after a quick 20 minutes in the oven. It’s that easy! Things are bubbling away and making your kitchen smell like a Cheese Palace in no time.
Deficiency addressed. Comfort achieved. Bikini season… you’ve still got some time.
Chihuahua Mac + Cheese
5 c. cooked elbow pasta (A note on the pasta: I opted to cook 1 pound of elbows chifferi, a sort of twisted, ridged, elbow-shaped pasta, for this dish. You will not need a full pound, but can save the rest for another use, which is what I chose to do. You can also use a plain elbow-shaped pasta.)
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 c. whole milk
1 c. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper, ground
2 tsp. ancho chile, ground, divided
1 tbsp. garlic, minced
1 1/2 c. Chihuahua cheese, shredded, divided (As I mentioned above, a medium or sharp cheddar would make an excellent substitute for Chihuahua cheese.)
1 c. Manchego cheese, shredded
1/2 c. Panko breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 400°.
Cook and drain pasta according to package directions. Set aside to cool.
Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Add flour, salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon of the ground ancho while whisking over medium heat. Once the flour and seasonings are incorporated, add the milk and cream while continuing to whisk. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 2-3 minutes, reduce the heat and continue to cook on low for 10 additional minutes. After approximately 10 minutes, add 1 cup of Chihuahua cheese and the Manchego cheese to the cream sauce. Stir the cheese into the sauce, increasing the heat slightly if necessary to melt. Once the cheese has completely melted, remove the sauce from heat.
Combine the cheese sauce and pasta in a large bowl, tossing to coat. Set aside.
Meanwhile, toss the breadcrumbs, remaining Chihuahua cheese and remaining ancho in a small bowl. Transfer the coated pasta to a 2-quart baking dish. Cover with the breadcrumb mixture and bake for 20-25 minutes. Finished mac will be golden and bubbling at the edges.
YIELD: 2 quarts, approximately 6-8 servings