It’s a fabulous Friday here in Cincinnati, and to top it off, I’ve got mac and cheese.
I’ll be upfront here: this isn’t skinny mac and cheese. This isn’t lightened up mac and cheese. It’s not vegan, or gluten-free, or dairy-free. It’s the real thing.
And it’s got some vegetables. I’m not trying to be parent-sneaky by grinding up cauliflower and sticking it in the sauce (although, cauliflower cheese sauce is awesome. If you’ve never had it before, here’s the ultimate source).
The vegetables here serve their true purpose. They’re grilled over a smoky flame, chopped up into chunky chunks and added in all their colorful glory right to the dish.
It’s late July, and sweet corn and peppers are practically dripping from every farm stand in the city. Have I mentioned that I’m growing corn for the first time in my own home garden? It’s so exciting! (Oops, my geeky home gardener just slipped out.) The stalks are tall with ears sticking out all over the place, silks waving from their tops.
The nail biting part now is waiting for the ears to fill out with plump corn kernels. Crossed-fingers!
See how pretty and colorful and saucy?
I used a beautiful pasilla pepper (the red pepper in the photo above) — it’s thin-skinned and sweet, similar to a bell pepper — and a poblano pepper (the green pepper above) with just a little heat. Feel free to substitute your favorites or what you have on hand. If you like heat, try a red jalapeño. Red jalapeños are awesome — they’re the fully ripened form of green jalapeños. You don’t find them in the market very often because it’s takes an extra month in the fields for them to go red. Oh, and chipotle peppers are actually red jalapeños that have been dry smoked.
Hope you didn’t mind the sidetrack on jalapeños. But now you see now how my brain works in the summer — always thinking about the goodies in the my garden. 🙂
The next time you whip up mac and cheese, break out the grill and enjoy some summer vegetable crunch along with the cheesy pasta goodness!
Smoky Vegetable Mac and Cheese
- 1 ear sweet corn husks and silk removed
- 2 peppers of your choice sliced in half lengthwise, seeds removed. Try one red pasilla or sweet bell pepper and one poblano pepper.
- 14 ounces pasta I used cavatappi
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 small shallot minced
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups half and half milk or heavy cream, scalded
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 cups grated cheese a mix is nice - I used smoked cheddar, Irish Whisky cheddar, and quesadilla
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Preheat grill to medium-high. For an extra smoky flavor, wrap a handful of applewood or mesquite chips in a foil packet and cut slits in the foil to allow smoke to escape. When the grill is fully heated, toss the packet on the coals (on a charcoal grill) or very near the burner (on a gass grill). Clean and oil the grates.
- Arrange the vegetables over heat (place pepper with skin sides down). Keep an eye on them and turn now and then. You're looking for a light char on the corn, and blackened skins on the peppers.
- Transfer vegetables to a plate and allow to cool. Remove the charred skin from peppers and dice. (It's okay if all the skin doesn't come off.)
- Remove the corn from the cob.
- Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, but do not rinse, and transfer to a greased baking dish (2 to 2 1/2 quarts).
- While pasta is cooking, melt butter over medium heat in a heavy sauce pan. Add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add flour to butter and stir to form a thick paste. Add a 1/2 cup of the dairy to the flour paste and stir until the paste is incorporated into the diary. Add the remaining dairy and continue stirring until the bechamel is thick and slightly bubbly.
- Add grated cheese to the bechamel sauce and remove pan from heat. Gently stir until cheese is mostly melted. Add Worcestershire sauce and mustard, then stir until the sauce is thick and smooth. Fold in the corn and peppers. Pour the sauce over the pasta, coating it completely.
- Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the mixture begins to bubble. Serve immediately.