“Chris, this is awesome!” As soon as Tim said that a wide smile spread across my face, my eyes filled with excitement and I began to feel giddy. It was as if he told me that men were now going to date women based on their personality instead of looks (yeah, I was THAT thrilled). And when I was informed that my crock-pot was empty, I giggled and shrieked with glee.
True to my chili cookoff strategy, I entered a Green Chile Mac ‘n Cheese dish and won the Most Original category. My entry celebrated the Southwest, blending a variety of peppers, sweet corn, mild onions and plenty of rich, creamy cheese.Mary Beth Rodriguez recently blogged about her fascination with macaroni and cheese. She’s one of my favorite food stylists, because when we work together, we easily combine our energy, creativity and love for food. In her posting, she talks about making the most of a simple dish and tying in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s phrase: “boom for real.” MB’s artistry, along with Bon Appetit’s recent profile on Roaring Fork of Arizona, inspired my entry.
Whenever I create a simple dish, I take the opportunity to develop my technique. In this case, I focused on balancing textures: by using good knife skills and ensuring proper sweating of the vegetables. Pasta dishes fail simply by having the wrong amount of texture. So it was important that my vegetables provide the right amount of crunch against the soft creaminess of the cheese and noodles. Upon first bite, you want a blend of textures to hit your mouth, including the velvety rush of cream, followed by the heat of the chiles.
If you try to create this dish, make sure your peppers and onions are diced uniformly. Keep them the same size as your corn kernels. Also, watch the saute. I decided to sweat the vegetables over low heat, preventing any browning or caramelization. The goal is for the vegetables to keep their firmness without losing their taste.
A note on the noodles: I prefer rigate (with ridges). While a penne rigate can be used, I think the tubes are too large. I wanted small bites, so I went with a small sea shell noodle. I realize that in a traditional sense, elbow macaroni is preferred, but I was going after the Most Original category.
All good things must be shared, including recipes, which I post here. May this dish bring you all the fun, laughter and friendship that I enjoyed!
Green Chile Mac ‘n Cheese
2 whole poblano chiles, plus 1 serrano and 1 jalapeno
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 head of a medium red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, diced
1 cup corn kernels (if frozen, thaw before using)
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
4 cups small sea shells, cooked in salted water, prepared al dente
1 cup grated Pepper Jack cheese (for less heat, use regular Monterey Jack)
Salt and Pepper to taste
- Char or broil the chiles until blistered and blackened on all sides. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Peel, seed and chop chiles. Reserve a quarter of the chiles and put the remaining in a blender or food processor. Add whipping cream and pulse until smooth.
- Heat oil in large, heavy skillet over medium heat.
- Saute the onion for one minute, then add the peppers. Add the garlic and corn after another minute. Saute time should be around 4 minutes.
- Add the cream and chile mixture and bring to a simmer.
- Pour cream mixture over hot noodles and stir in cheese. Season with salt and pepper.