Pepper Jack Mac is a spicy pepper jack macaroni and cheese recipe studded with plenty of fresh jalapeños ~ think you can handle it? If I were you I’d skip straight to the recipe and make this outrageous meal asap, it’s that good.
There pretty much aren’t words to tell you how much I loved this recipe. Seriously, I ate the whole skillet without any help from family members. Not all at once, but for dinner, then breakfast (yes, really) lunch, and dinner again. SO good. It’s comfort food of the highest order.
Did you know that the fat in dairy products helps temper the heat of hot chile peppers like jalapeños? That means you can tolerate hot peppers better in a cheesy dish like this!
There’s nothing revolutionary about the concept, I used pepper jack cheese to make a spicy macaroni and cheese, and then folded in one or two sliced jalapeños for good measure. But trust me, this is one of those meals that is so much better than the simple sum of its parts. Maybe it’s the luxuriously twisty Torchio pasta I used, it’s big and has lots of folds for the cheese sauce to settle into. Have you ever seen those packages of unusual Italian pasta shapes in discount department stores, or in World market? I buy them every now and then and I’m always so pleased, they can be really wonderful. I found these Torchios in World Market, and you can also get them on AMAZON. Their big, loose shape really stands up to my spicy mac and cheese without overpowering it.
TIP: Italian pasta, that is, pasta imported from Italy, tends to be lighter (more delicate) and less filling than American made, even in larger shapes like my Torchio. I love it with heavier sauced pasta dishes like this pepper jack mac.
Here’s a fun graphic of all the pasta shapes for reference. It’s from Chasing Delicious, a website that is sadly no longer around. The next time you’re going to make pasta, branch out and try a new shape.
I’ve used another of my favorite large Italian shapes, Cavatappi, in my CACIO E PEPE MACARONI AND CHEESE, it’s a large loose spiral that really catches the sauce. And in my BUCATINI WITH BURST TOMATOES, the thick strands of Bucatini pasta make a fun contrast with the delicate burst tomatoes. Any pasta dish can be stepped up a notch with a fresh new pasta shape. My LAMB RAGU gets even more luxurious when I serve it over the wide soft folds of Papardelle.
The basics of pairing pasta shapes with the right sauce ~
- Long strand pastas are meant for lighter sauces.
- The thinner the pasta, the lighter the sauce. Angel hair should only be served with the lightest of olive oil based sauces.
- Flatter strands can support slightly heavier sauces, think fettuccine with Bolognese.
- Short chunky pasta shapes can handle heavier sauces with chunks of meat or veggies in them, like the pieces of eggplant in PASTA ALLA NORMA or the chunks of sausage in ZITI WITH SAUSAGE AND SAGE.
- Pasta shapes with nooks and crannies or ridges, like fusilli and the Torchio I used today capture and hold the sauce in recipes with thick heavy sauces like mac and cheese.
- 1/2 pound large shape pasta (I used Torchio)
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 pound Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
- 1-2 jalapenos, thinly sliced
- salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- Set oven to 350F
- Set aside 1/2 cup or so of the shredded cheese for topping.
- Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water just until al dente. I usually cook pasta a good 2 or 3 minutes less than the package says. Drain and set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large pan and add the flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for a minute or so. Add the milk and stir or whisk until well combined. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and add the cheese, a little at a time, while stirring, until all the cheese has been incorporated and the sauce is smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Stir the cooked pasta into the sauce, along with the sliced jalapeños and mix well. Top with the reserved cheese.
- Bake for about 30-40 minutes until browned and bubbling throughout. You can run it under the broiler for a minute or two at the end to brown it further. Serve right away with a green salad.
Make it your own ~
- Add a nice buttery crumb crust if you like. Toast fresh made bread crumbs with melted butter, salt, and pepper, and toast them in a skillet until crisp. Scatter across the top of the macaroni before baking.
- Add crisp crumbled bacon. Why not?
- Make your own high octane pepper jack cheese ~ just grate Monterey Jack and blend it with finely minced jalapeños.