Tex Mex Mac & Cheese

Perhaps it’s my inner child – hanging on for dear life as I rapidly approach the third decade of my life – that is responsible for my love of macaroni & cheese; melty cheese and carb-y pasta are a match made in heaven, if you ask me. That being said, my palate yearns for a more sophisticated flavor profile than is offered by the typical cheese sauce.

Here’s where tonight’s meal comes into play.

I added cumin, chipotle chili powder, and cayenne pepper to the sharp cheddar cheese sauce, and tossed in black beans, red bell pepper, and cilantro along with the whole wheat pasta. My taste buds were not bored.

I lightened the traditional dish by eliminating the butter and subbing in reduced fat milk and cheese. Whisking the milk into a spiced flour mixture over moderate heat results in a smooth “slurry”, to which shredded cheese is added to make a lusciously creamy sauce.

This Tex Mex version of mac & cheese is a tasty and fun way to enjoy an old favorite, and has inspired me to brainstorm other flavor profiles. Goat cheese and roasted squash mac & cheese, perhaps? Or how about mozzarella and pesto mac & cheese?

Something tells me I’ll be breaking out my whisk again in the very near future…

Tex Mex Mac & Cheese

inspired by Edible Mosaic

yields 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry whole wheat penne (or rotini or elbows)
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • a few grinds of black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground chipotle chili pepper (or regular chili powder)
  • 1/8 – 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (depending on heat preference)
  • 1 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
  • 1/2 cup shredded 2% sharp cheddar cheese (or monterey jack or jalapeno cheddar)
  • 1/2 of a 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 Tbsp of your favorite salsa for garnish, optional
  • chopped cilantro for garnish, optional

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, add to rinsed & drained beans, and set aside.
  2. In a medium pot, whisk together the flour, salt, pepper, and spices. Heat the pot over medium heat. Gradually whisk in the milk. Cook the milk and flour mixture together, whisking, until the milk comes to a gentle simmer. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens considerably, (coats the back of a spoon), about 1-2 minutes.
  3. Remove thick milk mixture from heat and stir in cheese until it melts. Stir in the drained pasta, beans, and chopped bell pepper. Top with salsa and cilantro, if using.

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