Roasted Jalapeno Macaroni and Cheese

Roasted jalapenos and a modest amount of strongly flavored cheese go a long way in flavoring this lightened-up macaroni and cheese.
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Who doesn't love mac and cheese? But do you also love the 500-600 calories and 15-25 grams of fat per cup that comes with it (and who has just one cup)? Truth is, you don't need heaps of fat to create a creamy and sensuous macaroni and cheese. A little butter goes a long way, as does good quality cheese. When it comes to toppings, I like the contrast of tender, cheesy noodles with crunchy toasted bread crumbs, but when you bake macaroni and cheese with a crust, the noodles dry out. So, for this dish, I created the topping in a skillet and then sprinkled it on at the end, creating golden brown, parmesan-spiked bliss. Also, lots of mac and cheese recipes call for a dash of hot sauce – the heat ramps up the cheese flavor and rounds out the dish. Instead of hot sauce, I decided to add a roasted jalapeno. The freshly roasted pepper adds the perfect amount of smoky heat and a splash of color. I think you'll adore this!

Roasted Jalapeno Macaroni and Cheese
12 ounces elbow macaroni
1 jalapeno pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups 1% milk
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (2 ounces)
1 cup shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese (2 ounces)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the macaroni according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, roast the jalapeno one of two ways:

1. Using tongs or a heavy fork, hold the jalapeno over the open flame of a gas burner until blackened all over, turning frequently. Transfer the blackened jalapeno to a freezer bag, seal the bag and steam for 30 seconds to loosen the skin. Peel away the blackened skin, seed and dice the jalapeno.

2. To roast the jalapeno in the oven, preheat the broiler. Halve and seed the jalapeno and place it, skin side up, on a baking sheet. Broil for 5 minutes, until the skin is blackened. Transfer the blackened jalapeno to a freezer bag, seal the bag and steam for 30 seconds to loosen the skin. Peel away the blackened skin and dice the jalapeno.

In a small dry skillet, combine the panko and Parmesan and set the pan over medium heat. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the bread crumbs and cheese are golden brown, shaking the pan frequently. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook until smooth and blended, stirring frequently. Add the milk and bring to a simmer. Add the cheeses and cook until the cheese melts, stirring constantly. Fold in the cooked macaroni and roasted jalapeno and stir to combine. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon the mac and cheese into individual bowls and sprinkle the panko-Parmesan mixture over top.

Serves 6

Nutrition Info Per Serving (1 1/2 cups)
Calories: 330
Total Fat: 10 grams
Saturated Fat: 6 grams
Total Carbohydrate: 47 grams
Sugars: 5 grams
Protein: 15 grams
Sodium: 117 milligrams
Cholesterol: 27 milligrams
Fiber: 2 grams

Robin Miller is a nutritionist, host of Quick Fix Meals, author of “Robin Rescues Dinner” and the busy mom of two active little boys. Her boys and great food are her passion. Check her out at www.robinrescuesdinner.com.

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