After many years of gas grilling, SoupAddict has fallen in love again with the good ole fashioned charcoal grill. Thank you, Weber. Your kettle grills are brilliant.
And even though it’s been hot enough to grill whole beef tenderloins directly on the driveway for close to three solid months now here in the Midwest – and SoupAddict has thusly been hiding in the air conditioning for most of those three months – she has been seen on occasion tip-toeing out to her deck to cook something delicious over a smoky mesquite fire.
(But first we must stop to marvel over the wonder that is that last paragraph: one, big run-on sentence. Somewhere, SoupAddict’s former English professors are shifting uncomfortably in their seats, sensing that something has gone terribly wrong in the world of language. And somewhere else, a former boss of SoupAddict’s – one of a vanishing breed of truly gifted editors – suddenly rolled his eyes without knowing why. Sorry Bill, that was me, mangling the written word you love so well. Again.)
Run-on sentence or not, SoupAddict does know one thing, and that thing is that she loves mac and cheese. Not just in the winter. No, sir. All year long. And snuggly-warm-comfort-food mac and cheese does not have to thumb its nose uncompanionably at summer. Not when there’s a bounty of fresh vegetables just waiting their turn for a dip in cheese sauce. Mac and cheese and summer vegetables can get along just fine.
A trip to the farmers’ market last weekend yielded all sorts of goodies, including sheep’s nose pimento peppers (oh so sweet and delicious), and a Holy Molé pepper (like a poblano, only smoky).
SoupAddict loves the wagon wheel pasta. It’s the easiest pasta shape to spear on one’s fork, and when it comes to mac and cheese, it’s critical not to waste time chasing weird, stab-resistant shapes around the plate. (Plus, it’s just so cute — especially the new mini versions by Barilla).
SoupAddict’s grill all fired-up and smokin’ with mesquite chips. Grill the veggies until charred in spots.
Cool and remove the charred skins from the peppers. Then dice all the veggies.
Grate some cheese. Smoked Gouda (right) is a must. Vermont sharp white cheddar (left) is optional.
No, on second thought, it’s a must as well. Mac and cheese isn’t mac and cheese unless it’s mac and Vermont cheese.
Make the cheese sauce. Try not to swoon. But if you do, blame it on the heat, and not the schmear of delicious sauce on your lips (“Why, how ever did that get there?”).
Add the smoky vegetables to the cheese sauce.
Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta. Bake the smoky vegetable mac and cheese in the oven – or on the grill – until mixture begins to bubble. Serve immediately. Or hide it in your secret Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies hiding spot and tell the fam there was an unfortunate incident in the oven, and that they can either grab the can of Easy-Off and get to work, or go pick up a pizza. And when you hear the car leave the driveway, dig in.
Not that SoupAddict would ever do something like this herself. No, sir. She just made up this scenario out of thin air. Yessireee. Made it right up.
Smoky Vegetable Mac and Cheese
1 ear sweet corn, husks and silk removed
3-4 each peppers of your choice. Try 1 sweet bell pepper and two poblano peppers. Or 2 sweet bell peppers and 1 red jalapeño pepper
1 medium red onion, peeled, ends trimmed, sliced and skewered*
16 ounces pasta or macaroni
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups half and half, milk or heavy cream
1 1/2 cups grated cheese, preferably smoked, although a combination of a smoked and a sharp cheese is very tasty
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F
1. Light your grill and allow to preheat. If using, add mesquite chips just prior to adding food to grill, and wait for them to catch fire and start smoking.
2. When grill is ready, arrange all vegetables over heat. Keep an eye on them and turn now and then. You’re looking for a light char.
3. Transfer vegetables to a plate and allow to cool. Remove loose, charred skin from peppers. It’s okay if all the skin doesn’t come off.
4. Remove the corn from the cob. Dice the remaining vegetables and set all aside.
5. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, but do not rinse, and transfer to a baking dish.
6. While pasta is cooking, melt butter over medium heat in a heavy sauce pan.
7. Add flour to butter and stir to form a thick paste. Add a 1/2 cup of the dairy to the paste and stir until the paste is incorporated into the diary. Add the remaining dairy and continue stirring until thick and slightly bubbly.
8. Add grated cheese to the bechamel sauce and remove pan from heat. Gently stir until cheese is mostly melted. Add salt and pepper to taste, then stir until the sauce is thick and smooth. Pour the sauce over the pasta.
9. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the mixture begins to bubble. Serve immediately.
*For a regular red onion, slice thickly and skewer each slice like a lollipop on thin bamboo skewers. For extra small onions as shown, peel and trim the ends, then slice in half and skewer the halves.