I’m roasting chiles and frying up bacon. What am I making, you might ask? What everybody wants to eat after being ill for a few days: chipotle macaroni and cheese. With bacon, of course.
OK, so this might seem a bit heavy for a re-entry into the land of the normal eating, but let me tell you—I’m hungry! And while the best thing I can say about not feeling well is that your skinny jeans are suddenly a viable option in your wardrobe, in the end I’d rather be well than ill. Though who wouldn’t? But let’s talk about chipotle macaroni and cheese, shall we?
My family, much like yours I reckon, has always made homemade macaroni and cheese. Sure, we’d have the box stuff on hand for after-school snacks or donations to the church food pantry, but in my house the real, homemade stuff was what was preferred.
Mom makes her macaroni and cheese in a variety of ways, but my favorite is a casserole of pasta suspended in a luscious sauce comprised of egg yolks, cheese and heavy cream. And just when you think it couldn’t be any more extravagant, she throws in diced, thick ham and tops it off with buttery breadcrumbs.
Yes, this is an excellent dish, but because of its richness I only advise serving it on special occasions. When it comes to a more everyday, simple macaroni and cheese, I turn to a method I learned in the New York Times.
This recipe requires little effort besides pouring cottage cheese blended with milk over dry pasta, tossing in some shredded cheese and baking it for an hour. No endless stirring a sauce or boiling a batch of pasta, which makes it a cinch to make. The Times version kept it plain, but I’ve made it my own by adding chipotle and garlic. And I top it with bacon and cotija, which adds contrast to the oozing cheese and soft pasta.
I realize that my macaroni and cheese may appear as decadent as my mom's, but feel free to convince yourself that it’s a touch more healthy due to the cottage cheese and all. I do. But you know what? We’re nearing the end of a long, cold winter and sometimes you just need to pamper yourself. And for me, comfort comes clothed in chipotle chiles, cheese and bacon.
Chipotle macaroni and cheese with bacon (adapted from the NY Times)
2 cups of dry elbow pasta
2 cups of milk
1 cup of cottage cheese
1 chipotle chile in adobo
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 clove of garlic, roughly chopped
Pinch of cumin
Salt and black pepper to taste
3 cups of shredded cheese, a mix of cheddar and Monterey Jack
1/4 cup of crumbled cotija cheese (optional, but delicious!)
4 pieces of cooked bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon of butter
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Grease a 9-inch cast-iron skillet or a 9-inch square or round baking pan with the butter. Add the dry pasta.
In a blender, mix together the milk, cottage cheese, chipotle chile, mustard powder, garlic, cumin, salt and black pepper until it’s smooth. Pour mixture over dry pasta and stir until sauce is evenly distributed.
Stir in two cups of the shredded cheese, cover the pan with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, remove the foil and stir the macaroni and cheese a couple of times. Top with the remaining 1 cup of shredded cheese and chopped bacon and cook for another 25 minutes uncovered or until brown and bubbling.
Remove from oven, sprinkle with cotija and serve.
Note: If you’re not familiar with cotija cheese, it’s a Mexican hard cheese that’s like a cross between feta and parmesan. It’s become increasingly more common, so you can find it at many regular grocery stores and Hispanic markets. And if you live in New York City, I found at Mexicana Bakery in Jackson Heights at 86-06 Roosevelt a wonderful cotija coated in dried chiles. Also, chipotle bacon jam might go dandy with this as well!