So, I was elated when my friend Lisa bought me the wonderful cookbook Melt for Christmas. It’s a cookbook entirely about macaroni and cheese recipes. Cheese? Pasta? TOGETHER!?! Let me step up my pasta game.
This recipe is so good. Of course, it’s decadently cheesy and creamy. But it also had a smoky and spicy flavor. Not spice like when your taste buds explode after eating some hot salsa. It’s a friendly spice that makes your palate tingle with a warm, lingering heat. Ryan and I were really taken off guard by how yummy and special this dish was. We had it for dinner two nights in a row. The second night, we both came home excited for more mac and cheese. When we had our first bites, they were more delicious then our brains and mouths had remembered. It was like a wonderful surprise that surpasses all expectations. This is the kind of meal that makes you say “mmmm” over and over.
This recipe calls for two kinds of cheese: cotija and Lincolnshire Poacher. I’ve found cotija easily at Whole Foods, although it may not be in every grocery store. I could not find Lincolnshire Poacher, a specific type of English aged Cheddar. I even went to the specialty cheese stand in Eastern Market, but no luck. However, what’s great about the book is it names a few alternative cheese suggestions. I showed the recipe to the cheese monger in Eastern Market and she helped me pick out a good aged-cheddar. In short, use aged cheddar if that is what is easiest for you to find. If you do find Lincolnshire Poacher, tell me where!
Finally, I won’t be blasphemous and say something stupid like “this is too cheesy.” Because that’s impossible. But this recipe does make a ton of cheese sauce. If you’re getting squeamish about the cheese level, I’d recommend following the instructions for making the sauce, then pour the sauce slowly over the noodles until you’re at a level where you feel comfortable. The hard things with macaroni and cheese is that in restaurant you can ignore the creamy level, but at home you’re directly responsible and so may feel guilty about how much cheese is in there.
But I say, don’t worry about it. Sometimes you gotta treat yo self. This recipe is worth it. And you’re worth it.
This recipe is adapted from Melt.
1/2 pound of chorizo (I actually used a 12 oz package I bought from Whole Foods)
1 tsp olive oil
1 lb box of penne rigate (this kind of penne has ridges, so it can catch hold of the cheese)
4 ounces cotija, shredded
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp chipotle pepper flakes
1/8 tsp ground cumin
1 pound aged cheddar
Ground black pepper
Minced scallions for topping (optional)
1. Cut the chorizo out of their casings. Break them into bite sized pieces. Don’t get too crazy about this, you can also smash them up once you cook them.
2. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Cook the chorizo until well browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chorizo to a plate lined with paper towels, to absorb the oil.
3. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente (a little bit chewy, it doesn’t have to be fully cooked because it’s going to be baked later). Drain and set aside.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a large casserole dish. I used a 2 1/2 quart dish, but I think my 9×13″ Pyrex would have given me more wiggle room.
5. In the dish, toss together the pasta, chorizo, and cotija.
6. Now to prepare the sauce! In a small sauce pan, heat the milk over medium heat. Heat just until it starts to steam and tiny bubbles form on the edge of the pan.
7. In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir. The authors of melt recommend using a flat-edged wooden spoon. This will help you scrape the bottom of the pan and keep the roux (fancy name for the butter and flour mixture) from burning. Heat and stir until it takes on a light brown color.
8. Slowly pour in the milk, chipotle peppers, and cumin. Stir constantly until the sauce thickens. The sauce is thick enough when you can draw your finger across the spoon and it leaves a clear path.
9. Remove from heat and add most of the aged cheddar. Leave behind some cheddar for topping. Stir until the cheddar is completely melted. Season with pepper to taste. Add some salt if you like also, but the cheeses are pretty salty on their own.
10. Pour the sauce over the pasta. Stir a bit to make sure it’s all well mixed. Top with the extra aged cheddar. Sprinkle scallions on top, if using.
11. Bake for 25 minutes.
12. Let cool a bit before serving. Then eat ravenously.
Messy level: Three spoons, maybe verging on four spoons. This one made a lot of dishes, although some of it might be my fault. I used the food processor to shred the cheeses (although I guess I could have bought already shredded cheese). I had to use the mortar and pestle to smash the cumin seeds (because why go out and buy ground cumin for just 1/8 tsp?). But, also I needed a pan for the chorizo, a pot for the pasta, two pots for the cheese sauce, and a casserole for baking. Also, there’s always the danger of pouring the hot cheese sauce that could lead to a molten cheese mess on my floor and counter. Luckily no such spilling occurred. Although there’s a ton of dishes, I only give it 3 spoons because there’s lot of time in between steps to do some cleaning so your kitchen doesn’t have to look like a disaster if you don’t want it to.