Padronaroni and Cheese

Hey folks, it’s fresh chilli season again and that means that it’s time for padrons. Mountains of them, week after week, fried up to share with my family.

But what happens when one of my suppliers sends the peppers fully grown, with far more heat than the usual, early-harvested sort? What do I do when they’re too spicy for everyone else?

I can, after all, only eat them so quickly by myself. And they don’t stay fresh forever.

So, today, we’re going to look at a recipe that I concocted to make use of the last, extra hot, green padrons, before dehydrating the red for powder. A recipe inspired by the Reddit user PintSizedHerzl, who made something similar, yet with far less focus on the spices, and has had me eager to try out my own take for quite a while now.

A recipe for padron-topped macaroni cheese, which I finally have a good excuse to use my peppers on. Here goes:

It’s a simple dish, in concept, but one with a little more thought put into its execution than you might first realise. Because, while it would be ever so easy to just pop the padrons ontop of a regular old cheese and pasta bake, that wouldn’t be any fun and it certainly wouldn’t be worthy of a blog post.

No, what I’m cooking, for this month’s big one, is a meal where the flavour from my padron-frying oil permeates every mouthful, along with the complimentary tastes of cumin, mustard and indian long pepper. The last of which you can get from Spices on the Web, who are linked in my sidebar (or below, on mobile), if you need them.

Here’s the full list of what I used:

250g macaroni or spirali pasta

200g mature cheddar cheese

100g cream cheese

125g plain white flour

800ml milk

8 tablespoons of olive oil

4 tablespoons of butter

3 teaspoons of green Jalapeño powder

3 teaspoons of cumin seeds

2 teaspoons of mustard seeds

2 long pepper catkins

4 large padron peppers (or 6+ of a regular size)

And salt and parmesan cheese to season (optional)

Though you may also want a little extra cheddar for the topping. More on that later.

For now, we’re going to get started by chopping our chillies into large chunks. Three or four rings per pepper is ideal but the size of each one isn’t too important. They just need to be roughly even and expose enough of the inside of the pepper for the oil to fully absorb the flavour, while we’re frying our padrons.

Before we do so, though, we’re going to heat up our olive oil in a deep saucepan with a lid and we’re going to want to keep that lid well within our reach. Because, while padrons are at their best when fried hot, all of that newly-exposed juice is going to make them spit like mad.

When the oil is up to temperature and flowing freely, we’re going to want to turn our hob right down to its minimum, chuck the pepper pieces in and instantly cover them. And we’re not going to take that lid off again for a couple of minutes, or until we can hear that the spitting has stopped.

Safety first and all that.

Once it is safe to remove the lid, however, you’re going to want to do so. Your peppers will have already blistered and maybe even lightly browned on one side but they’ll need stirring to ensure that they also do so on the other. Resulting in a further two minutes of cooking, before they can be fished from the oil.

Do this with whatever stirring utensil you’re already using – I favour a wooden spatula but the choice is yours – leaving as much of the oil in the pan as you can. Then pat the pepper pieces down, with a sheet of kitchen roll, to remove the rest and set them aside for later use.

They should be just a little less done, at this point, than how you’d normally want to fry your padrons, but they’ll receive further cooking at the end of this recipe. Right now, we’re moving on to its sauce.

For today’s spiced cheese sauce, I’ve taken inspiration from a few different places but the main two are my jalapeño popper recipe and the extra fancy, mustard oil and long pepper padrons that I occasionally make.

I find that the earthy notes of mustard oil compliment the nutty elements brought forth from the fried padrons, whilst the highly aromatic, lightly herbal, musty tones of the indian long pepper complete the trio and also provide a definite peppercorn quality. Yet not one that interferes with the green chillies, themselves, like that of regular, black pepper.

So I’ve taken that long pepper and paired it with actual mustard seeds, in order to better fit with today’s cheese dish, but I’ve also decided to play up that green chilli and creamy cheese combo with actual cream cheese, the cumin from my poppers and even powdered, green jalapeño. The earthiest form of the chilli and, therefore, the best suited to use alongside my other spices.

All of these ingredients, in conjunction with a very subtle bitterness from our padron-infused olive oil, are going to come together into a wonderfully creamy, aromatic, earthy and chillied macaroni cheese that should taste like none that you’ve ever experienced before. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s still plenty of cooking to do before we can dig in.

Right now, though, I think we can take a minute or two’s break from the actual cooking to crush the catkin-like structures of our long pepper into something more manageable. I used a pestle and mortar but, if you don’t have one, you can also flake of small chunks with a sharp knife and crush them with the flat. Just be careful not to cut yourself when doing so.

Then it’s back to the pan and time to toss in the butter, shielding yourself with the lid oncemore if the spitting restarts. Though it may not, depending on how much the oil has cooled.

Heat the mixture on low, stirring until the butter has fully melted and combined with the rest, then add in the spices – The mustard seeds, cumin and long pepper – but not the jalapeño just yet. Powders will burn at this stage, while the whole seeds and cracked pepper that we’re using should only be improved by a minute or two of gentle frying.

As their aroma fills the air, toss in the flower and quickly stir it into the rest, to create a thick paste. To which we will add our milk, until it’s just about liquid, oncemore.

Then, when you are satisfied that you have a smooth roux, add all the rest of the dairy – Milk and cheeses – and whisk like mad to combine. And I do mean like mad, too, since the resulting cheese sauce will do its absolute utmost to become lumpy, if you let it.

Once you’ve made sure that it’ll stay the perfect consistency, though, all that’s left to do to it is add the chilli. Simply stir the jalapeño powder through and then you can remove the whole lot from the heat, setting it aside while we prep our pasta.

Honestly, though, I don’t have a lot to say about that pasta prep. Just salt your water, bring it to the boil, chuck the pasta in and cook for as long as the packet says.

It can vary a little, depending on the brand, but it should take somewhere around the ten minute mark.

After which, we can simply drain the water off, mix the pasta with our sauce and top the whole thing off with the padrons from earlier – Now shredded extra fine, for a more even distribution:

Season with however much salt and parmesan you think is appropriate and then it’s good to go into the oven, at 180c, for twenty minutes. Though you may also want to add a little extra cheddar, in order to cover the padron pieces and keep them from getting as crispy as mine:

Even if you don’t, though, they still provide a tasty topping and, alongside the jalapeño add exactly the nutty, earthy, green chilli flavour that I was looking for. As well as a

3/11

Heat

that grows from a mild tingle on the tip of my tongue to the low end of what I would call “hot”, as it reaches further back. Yet it never gets any hotter than that, since the large amount of dairy in each mouthful kills the lingering warmth of the previous one, before adding that fire of its own.

And, of course, the creamy, cheese-filled flavour of that dairy pairs just as well with the green chillies in this dish as it would in any other. Only the subtle bitterness of the olive oil, in which they were fried, also counteracts the dairy’s natural hints of sweetness. Hints which I find go unnoticed until they’re gone.

Without them, though, the savoury spices can really shine. And the sauce doesn’t half carry them well!

Despite everything else that’s going on in this dish, it’s that dry, earthy and aromatic blend of toasted mustard, mexican-style cumin and the musky, peppercon-esque spice of the long pepper that comes across the most. And it is delightful!

I’m incredibly happy with this chilli macaroni cheese of mine and I sure hope that you take the time to try it out, too. It’s well worth the effort!

And, if you want to see what else I’ve done with its peppers, you can always check out my encyclopedia pages for the padron and jalapeño. Enjoy!

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