This jalapeno popper macaroni and cheese is probably the best thing that’s ever come out of my kitchen.
There’s not much more to say about it than that. I mean, I could go on about how how rich and creamy and cheesy it is. How the thick sauce that clings to each piece of pasta tastes like someone just squeezed the guts out of your favorite bar poppers and called it “sauce.” How I kept running back to the kitchen as I waited for the pasta to finish cooking because I couldn’t stop sneaking tastes.
Or I could tell you how even though I lightened it up by using vegetable stock instead of cream and reduced fat cheese* instead of full fat cheese, it’s still some of the richest macaroni and cheese I’ve ever tasted. While I certainly wouldn’t call it health food, it’s healthier than most homemade macaroni and cheese. And definitely healthier than eating a plate full of fried jalapeno poppers for dinner.
Seriously, I might as well just stop cooking, because I don’t know if I’ll ever top this one. So I’ll just say this: make this ASAP. You can thank me later.
*Repeat after me: fat free cheese is evil. If you try to use that instead of reduced fat, I take no responsibility in your results. If you want to use full-fat cheese be my guest, but Cabot makes a very nice 50% reduced fat cheddar and pepper jack that melts beautifully and tastes like the real deal.
Jalapeno Popper Mac and Cheese
Prep Time: 20 minutes; Total Time: 30 minutes
This rich macaroni and cheese captures all the flavor of the jalapeno poppers at your favorite bar or pizzeria — right down to the crispy topping — but without the guilt. This dish has a kick; to prevent it from being too spicy, be sure to remove all of the seeds as well as the white veins from the inside of your jalapenos. I like to use a blend of cheddar and pepper jack, but you can use all cheddar if you prefer.
- 4 ounces dry Radiatore or other small, ridged pasta (elbow or shell shapes also work well)
- 1 slice Bacon, diced (optional)
- 1/4 cup diced Red Onion
- 1 clove Garlic, minced
- 8 Jalapeno Peppers, seeded and sliced
- 2 Tablespoons Flour
- 1 cup Vegetable Stock
- 4 ounces Reduced Fat Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
- 4 ounces Reduced Fat Pepper Jack Cheese, shredded
- 4 ounces 1/3 Less Fat Cream Cheese, cut into cubes
- 1/4 cup Bread Crumbs
- Preheat broiler. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to directions on the package. Drain and set aside.
- While the pasta cooks, prepare the sauce. Add the bacon, if using, to a wide bottomed pot over medium heat. Cook until crisp — about 7 minutes. Remove the bacon, leaving behind any drippings, and drain on a paper towel.
- Add the onion and garlic to the bacon grease and cook until softened — about 3 minutes. (If not using bacon, cook the onions and garlic in 1 Tablespoon of olive oil instead.) Add the jalapenos and cook for another 3 minutes. Stir in the flour. Cook for 1 minute, then add the vegetable stock. Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Slowly stir in the Cheddar and Pepper Jack cheeses, adding a little at a time and letting it melt completely before adding more. Stir in the cream cheese. Mix in the crumbled bacon, if using.
- Combine the cooked pasta and cheese in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle a thin layer of bread crumbs over the top. Broil 3-5 minutes, or until bread crumb topping is crispy and golden brown.