Macaroni and Cheese. Mac&Cheese. Cheesy-Delicious-Macaroni. No matter how you say it, it conjures up jovial childhood memories and the excitement and anticipation you experienced when you knew that the delicious meal of elbow noodles smothered in cheesy delight was being served for dinner.
Our Spicy Macaroni and Cheese pays homage to the simple times of childhood, but with a slight twist. While you will certainly feel nostalgic while eating this dish, it is not the Macaroni and Cheese of years yonder. This is a dish for the 21st century. Let’s throw some seasoning and spice in that childhood fave and make it bring tears to your eyes in other ways (okay, it’s not quite that hot…but still…). Our spicy macaroni and cheese dish is just what you need to feel confident serving a guilty pleasure to your guests, or to relax on a quiet evening by yourself, eating it by the spoonful straight from the pot. I know I sure wish I could have done the latter while cooking it.
The Spicy Flavors and Ingredients
Going in to this week, I knew I wanted to produce a mac & cheese, but wasn’t sure what to do with it to make it unique. But then I began thinking about Fall wines and my mind went to Gewürztraminer, which pairs wonderfully with spice. And thus the Spicy Macaroni and Cheese was born.
Now, simply adding jalapeños likely would have been enough, BUT, I wanted more. So I tossed in some onion. Still not satisfied, I turned to wood-fired green chilis (yup those ones in a can) to bring a smokey heat as well. Now we are talking.
I didn’t want the onions to be overpowering so I sautéed them along with the jalapeño and green chilis. YUM. The awesome part of this? The flavor profile of these three ingredients after being sautéed together is amazing.
The downside? Get that fan going hardcore over your stove, because that jalapeño smoke will bring tears to your eyes. Even the onion will be crying from it, and that is saying something. But believe me, it is worth it. Absolutely. Worth. It.
So much cheese, so little time
When you are browsing the store’s cheese section, it can be overwhelming to decide which variety to select. You’ve got Cheddar, PepperJack, Swiss, plus 20 other options you may never have heard of. And then to make it easier on you, the store creates pre-blended cheese options. Great. Now we’re up to 40 choices. Can you say analysis paralysis?
I wanted to keep it simple. So I went with straight sharp cheddar. I love that stuff. Those Tilamook blocks of cheddar last a day or two in our house. You are welcome Oregon economy for what I do for your cheese industry. So all of this to say – don’t over think the cheese. I’d recommend either cheddar or blend of cheddar and pepper jack. Those two flavors will work well together in a spicy macaroni and cheese.
The Wine Pairing
When it comes to choosing a wine to pair with Spicy Macaroni and Cheese, you need something that can stand up to the spice while complimenting the creamy cheesiness. This is why my mind went to Gewürztraminer. Gewürztraminer is an awesome grape varietal that is frequently overlooked. It pairs wonderfully with Middle Eastern or Indian dishes because its flavors and aromas of lychee, grapefruit and rose petal all blend or accentuate the potpourri of similar flavors in food. In our case, we need something to compliment the creamy cheese deliciousness, but also to partner up and befriend the spice. Gewürztraminer does this job splendidly.
The other perk of Gewürztraminer is that it is an often overlooked varietal. Guess what that means? Lower prices for higher quality wines. The consumer wins.
The biggest challenge with Gewürztraminer is that it can sometimes prove difficult to find. Your local wine shop will almost certainly have some available, but you may need to ask where it resides. If you can’t find someone to assist you, the best spot to begin your search is near the Pinot Gris and Riesling.
So now you are armed and ready to re-live a recipe that is likely a childhood favorite, yet updated to be served respectably at a gathering of friends. The spicy macaroni and cheese sure made a positive impression at a recent dinner at our place, and so did the Gewürztraminer. You are quite the food pairing pro. Go you.
- 6 cups cooked macaroni (elbow noodles)
- 5 cups sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 jalapeños
- 1½ cups whipping cream
- ½ large white onion
- 7 oz fire-smoked diced green chilis (in can)
- Salt to taste
- Pinch of smoked paprika
- Cook macaroni (elbow noodles) in a large pot until al dente (don't overcook, it will bring tears to my eyes).
- Return cooked macaroni to a large pot (you'll be adding more things to this pot later, make sure it has some room).
- Dice the onion and jalapeños. The jalapeño seeds determine the spice level, so leave in or remove as many as you feel comfortable with. I removed all of the seeds from one of the jalapeños.
- Combine diced onion and jalapeños in a large sauce pan and saute on medium to medium high heat until onions are lightly browned.
- Reduce sauce pan heat to medium and add diced green chilis. Stir the pepper-veggie mix for 2-3 minutes or until well combined.
- Place pot of macaroni noodles on a burner at medium heat. add pepper-veggie mix.
- Add whipping cream to macaroni, pepper-veggie pot.Stirring while pouring.
- Slowly begin adding cheese, 1 cup at a time, continuously stirring as you add to blend in the melting cheese.
- When the cheese has fully melted and blended in with the noodles, add salt to desired taste.
- Serve immediately (you can refrigerate as well, but the cheese will separate to a certain degree).
- Sprinkle a light dusting of smoke paprika for flavor and aesthetics just prior to presentation on the table.