There’s one week until Memorial Day, people! And I’m pleased to announce that backyard BBQ season has officially begun. Of course, yards are a precious thing here in NYC, so if you are fortunate enough to make friends with some lucky bastards who have one, you’d better be nice to them. Tell them how white their teeth look. Ply them with wine. Allow their children to drool on you. And never ever show up to dinner empty handed.

Gradually, but by popular demand, sometime in the last few years, this (ridiculous, ohmygodmaybejustanotherspoonful) macaroni and cheese has become the ace up my sleeve when it comes to potlucks. It’s macaroni and cheese after all: who doesn’t like that? But the addition of smoky roasted green chiles gives the classic formula just a little extra bite and oomph — and the combo of silky bechamel and a scattering of breadcrumbs makes sure it comes out of the oven sporting both a molten center and a crunchalicous crust. It’s easy. And though the quantities of butter and milk and cheese could kill you, if they do, at least you’ll die happy.

However: if it doesn’t get you a return invitation, you’re sunk.

3 large poblano chiles (or 1 1/2 cups chopped Hatch green chiles)
8 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
8 oz. sharp white Cheddar, grated
8 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano, shredded
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
salt and pepper
1/2 cup finely-crushed breadcrumbs
1 lb. dried whole wheat pasta (I used oversized Delallo penne candela, but any penne or rigatoni will work well.)

1. Heat oven to 400˚. Fill a large stockpot with salted water and set it over a high flame to come to a boil (this will be your pasta water). On a separate gas burner, light a high flame and place a chile across it, turning the chile periodically with tongs, until the outer skin is evenly blistered and charred, about 8 minutes. Place the hot, roasted chile into a closed paper bag for 10 minutes to steam. Repeat with the remaining chiles. Then rinse all three roasted, steamed chiles under cool running tap water and use your fingers to peel off their charred skin. Trim off the stems, discard the seeds and fibers and chop the chiles into rough 1/2 -1″ chunks. (If you are using chopped canned or frozen Hatch green chiles you can skip the above steps.) Set chiles aside.

2. Melt 6 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over a low flame. Whisk the flour into the melted butter and cook until it’s thick and golden, stirring continuously to prevent scorching, about 3 minutes. Drizzle in 1 cup of milk and continue whisking to form a thick, creamy roux. Continue cooking, whisking, and adding the milk one cup at a time, until you have used it all up and the mixture is thick enough to completely coat a spoon. Stir in the cheddar and 6 oz. of the Parmesan cheese and whisk thoroughly until the mixture is smooth and well-combined. Mix in nutmeg, paprika, mustard powder, Tabasco and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

3. Meanwhile, add the dried pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook it until it is just shy of tender. Then, drain off the liquid and return the pasta to the pot. Toss with 2 tablespoons of butter and stir the bechamel into the pasta. Next, add the green chiles. Stir well until the pasta is well-coated and the chile and cream sauce is evenly distributed.  Spoon the pasta and sauce into a 9″x13″ oven proof dish, scraping down the sides of the pot to make sure you get every last bit. Sprinkle the top of the pasta with the breadcrumbs and the reserved Parmesan. (If you’re doing this ahead of time, at this point it’s fine to let the prepared pasta rest for a few hours.) Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the pasta is hot and the breadcrumb layer is crunchy and golden brown.

Photo by Josh Wand (Don’t worry: he was well compensated with mac and cheese. Thanks, Josh!)


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