Not Mom’s mac and cheese; most definitely! Unless Mom had a taste for the hot and spicy. Ok, not too, too hot as I only used one Habanero pepper, which was just enough to add a nice spicy bite to the casserole! Let me back up a bit. It was a cold, rainy spring day and it had been a very long time since I made a nice, buttery, cheesy casserole of home made mac and cheese. (We’re not much for those box mixes). Instead of macaroni, I decided to use penne pasta (more interesting, don’t you think?) As the pasta was boiling, I took note of a couple of Habanero peppers in the fridge and I thought “Why not?” We love spice, not just for the sake of heat, but for the flavor various peppers add to certain dishes. So, I cleaned and minced one of the peppers very finely. I sautéed the Habanero in butter for a few minutes, added the flour and whisked until smooth. Then I added the milk, pepper and oregano to make the sauce; whisked until thickened and added shredded Colby jack cheese; combined with the cooked pasta in a buttered 9″ x 13″ casserole, topped with bread crumbs and 2 tablespoons of butter and baked for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Simple, simple, simple!!!!! What a flavor treat as well! The Habanero added a nice, spicy flavor to the dish but was not overpowering or too hot at all! An excellent way to liven up mac and cheese! Try this as a side dish for dinner tonight! The spicy pepper lovers in your family will thank you! Not so much the hot pepper/high Scoville unit fans? Then use only half of a pepper! It won’t be too hot, (I promise!) the milk and cheese in this dish brings it down, but still has a nice flavorful tang! This recipe makes one 9″ x 13″ casserole; 8 to 10 servings
Habanero Penne and Cheese
1 Pound Penne Pasta
1 Habanero Pepper, cleaned and finely minced
1/4 Cup Butter
1/3 Cup Flour
2 3/4 Cups Milk
1 1/2 Cup Shredded Colby Jack Cheese
1 Tsp. Black Pepper
3 Tbsp. Dried Oregano
3/4 Cup Bread Crumbs
2 Tbsp. Butter
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a 9″ x 13″ baking dish; set aside.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse. Set aside in a large bowl.
Clean Habanero pepper and mince very finely.
Melt 1/4 cup of butter in a medium saucepan. Add minced Habanero and saute for 3 to 4 minutes.
Add flour and whisk well until smooth.
Pour in milk, oregano and pepper and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened and bubbly. Add cheese and stir until melted.
Pour over pasta and mix well together.
Place pasta mixture into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and dot with 2 tablespoons of butter.
Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
One 9″ x 13″ baking pan or 8 to 10 servings.