Pepper Jack Mac is a spicy pepper jack macaroni and cheese recipe studded with fresh jalapeños. 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. Pepper Jack Mac is comfort food of the highest order.
did you know?
Did you know that the fat in dairy products helps mellow out the heat of hot chile peppers like jalapeños? Capsaicin, the compound responsible for the heat in peppers, is fat-soluble, which means it dissolves in fats and oils, preventing it from hitting your tastebuds directly. That means you can tolerate hot peppers better in a cheesy dish like this. Super cool!
There’s nothing revolutionary about the concept of pepper jack mac; 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.
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 Easy Pasta Bolognese 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, thin pasta (e.g., spaghetti, linguine): These types of pasta work well with light, thin sauces that can coat the strands evenly. Examples include simple olive oil-based sauces, tomato-based sauces, or light seafood sauces. The long, thin shape allows the sauce to cling to the pasta effectively. See my Easy Pasta Alla Checca.
- Ribbon-shaped pasta (e.g., fettuccine, tagliatelle): These wider, flat pasta shapes are ideal for rich and creamy sauces. They can handle sauces like Alfredo, carbonara, or creamy mushroom sauces because their shape and texture can capture and hold the sauce well. See Mushroom Carbonara with Gruyere and Hazelnuts
- Short pasta shapes (e.g., penne, fusilli, rigatoni): These types of pasta are versatile and can pair well with a wide range of sauces. The hollow or ridged shapes are great for holding chunky and hearty sauces, such as meat-based ragùs or chunky vegetable sauces. The sauce can get trapped inside the pasta, providing a burst of flavor in every bite. See Chili Mac and Cheese
- Tubular pasta shapes (e.g., macaroni, ziti): These shapes are perfect for baked dishes or sauces that need to cling to the pasta. They work well with cheese-based sauces, such as macaroni and cheese, as well as thick meat sauces. See Truffle Mac and Cheese.
Pepper Jack Mac
- 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 20 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.
- 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.