This recipe comes from the Jimtown Store in Healdsburg, which is about 45 minutes from where I grew up. We used to stop there on our way to Mendocino for tapenade and chocolate pudding and sea monkeys. When owner Carrie Brown and her late husband John Werner came out with the Jimtown Store Cookbook in 2002, I snapped it up for the pudding recipe alone. It’s one of my favorite cookbooks, and within I discovered my all-time favorite recipe for Macaroni and Cheese with Poblano Chiles. There’s a subtle, but not overpowering, heat from the roasted chiles, which cuts through the richness of all the béchamel and sharp cheese. The parm (both in the breadcrumbs and mixed in with the other cheeses) adds a nutty note. I like to use a large tubular shaped pasta, like oversized conchiglie or even rigatoni to trap all that cheese! But some prefer a penne shape for a toothier texture.
It’s a little labor intensive—roasting chiles, making a bechamel and breadcrumbs, and I highly recommend making the effort. But for last night’s dinner I cheated and got some fresh breadcrumbs from Whole Foods. Bonus in this recipe: a rustic and sublime trick with breadcrumbs, whether homemade or store bought! Toss a cup of breadcrumbs with a cup of grated parm and then sprinkle over the top. Would be great over a cauliflower or broccoli gratin as well. This macaroni and cheese has become a favorite with my family and extended family. I hope you enjoy as much as we do!
Macaroni and Cheese with Poblano Chiles
Adapted from the Jimtown Store Cookbook, Serves 8
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large fresh poblano (or pasilla) chiles
1 pound dried conchiglie or penne pasta
4 cups hot Béchamel sauce (recipe follows)
8 ounces sharp white Cheddar, grated
8 ounces sharp orange Cheddar, grated
8 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago, grated
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
1/2 cup homemade breadcrumbs
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk, heated till steaming
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
Lay chiles on their sides on a gas burner and turn flame on high. Roast chiles, turning with tongs, until skins are evenly charred, about 10 minutes.
Steam until cool in a closed paper bag, about 15 minutes. Under cold running water, rub off burned peel. Then discard stems, core and devein chiles (scraping away all seeds), and cut into long, thin strips.
To make béchamel, melt 6 tablespoons butter over low heat. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking often, without allowing flour to brown, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in hot milk. Add salt and nutmeg. Return sauce to medium heat and bring to simmer. Continue to cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sauce has thickened to texture of melted ice cream, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to instructions on package (about 8 minutes?), until just tender. Drain pasta and transfer to large bowl (do not rinse), and toss with butter.
Stir white and orange Cheddar cheeses and all but one cup of the grated parm into the hot béchamel. Add cayenne, paprika, mustard and Tabasco. Heat, stirring, until cheese just melt and sauce is smooth.
Pour the sauce over the pasta in the bowl. Add the chiles and stir. Spoon into the prepared dish. In a small bowl, combine reserved cup of grated parm and the bread crumbs.
Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over pasta in the dish. Bake until pasta is heated through, sauce is bubbling, and top is browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand on a rack for 5 minutes. Serve.