A few months ago I was contacted by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board about participating in the launch of their Macaroni & Cheese blog in celebration of National Cheese Lover’s Day.   Hello!?  Of course I was interested!  How could I resist such an offer?  I have always loved cheese, and most of my favorite foods are very cheesy.  And, one of those foods just happens to be macaroni and cheese.  Many food bloggers have been involved to compile 30 days worth of mac and cheese, and each has developed a recipe featuring a different cheese.

I was happy when I learned that my featured cheese would be Colby jack, because it is our standard in the house for snacking and such.  I knew immediately that I wanted to attempt a spicy variation of mac and cheese, and Colby jack fit well into that plan.  I typically prefer to use more than one type of cheese in the cheese sauce for the sake of variety and more depth of flavor.  This time around I decided to use mostly Colby jack, with some pepper jack for spice and sharp cheddar as well.  To add to the spiciness of the dish, I sautéed a mixture of finely chopped jalapeno pepper, roasted red pepper, and onion, and mixed this into the sauce before baking.  Finally, I mixed some cayenne pepper into both the cheese sauce itself and the bread crumb topping for an added kick.


I was absolutely thrilled with how this turned out.  In fact, I think it’s my new favorite mac and cheese.  I’ll always love a traditional version as well, but I think the added spice of this one just makes it more appealing to me.  The cheese sauce was creamy and the vegetables added great flavor, but thanks to fine chopping and sautéing there were not noticeable chunks affecting the texture of the dish.  Overall I would call this mild-moderately spicy, which is what I was going for.  Our whole family loved it.  It was also delicious reheated as leftovers later!  The amount of spice can be easily adapted to suit your preference by adding more or less jalapeno and cayenne pepper.

Check out the Macaroni and Cheese Blog for the rest of the 30 days of mac and cheese entries.  I can’t wait to see all the wonderful variations – and of course, try many of them!

Ingredients

4 cups pasta shapes (I like cavatappi)
1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup roasted red pepper (jarred or home roasted), finely chopped
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely minced
6½ tbsp. butter, divided
4 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2½ cups milk
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. onion powder
¼ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
8 oz. colby jack cheese, shredded
4 oz. pepper jack cheese, shredded
4 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. baguette or crusty Italian bread, torn into large chunks

Directions

  • 01

    Bring a large pot of water to boil.  When the water boils, cook the pasta according to the package directions.  In the meantime, melt ½ tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, red pepper and jalapeno to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until fragrant and tender, about 5-7 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

  • 02

    In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat.  Once the butter is completely melted, whisk in the flour.  Cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it turns a light golden brown color and begins to foam, about 2 minutes.  (Be careful not to burn!)  Whisk in the milk until well blended.  Cook the mixture, whisking or stirring frequently, until it begins to bubble and thicken, about 5 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium-low.  Whisk in the spices.  Add the cheeses to the mixture and whisk until completely melted and well incorporated.  Remove the mixture from the heat.

  • 03

    Preheat the oven to 375° F.  Grease a 2-quart casserole dish.  Return the drained pasta to the large pot.  Add in the cooked vegetables and the cheese sauce, and mix until well blended.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish.

  • 04

    Use a food processor to pulse the bread into coarse crumbs.  Transfer the crumbs to a small bowl.  Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and toss with the bread crumbs.  (I also mixed in a dash of cayenne pepper.)  Sprinkle the crumb mixture in an even layer on top of the pasta.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until the mixture is heated through and the topping is golden brown.  Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

  • 05

    Full Disclosure: I received compensation from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board for my groceries and the time spent on this project.