This week began with a time change and freezing rain. The worst form of precipitation coupled with the devastating realization that it gets dark at 5 pm now. Add in the deeply depressing state of the world and the fact I still had to do my job and be a somewhat pleasant member of society throughout this upheaval and that all adds up to one hell of the week. My cats were particularly unnerved by the shift in their feeding schedule. So in the midst of crying cats, terrible headlines, and working until darkness falls, there is only one solution: comfort food. And what is more comforting than a bowl of Mac and cheese? Today’s White Cheddar Chili Mac marries the charms of the cheesy classic with the much beloved white chili. A creamy and fiery bowl of carbs that will soothe your seasonal affective disorder like no other.
When I was growing up I pledged allegiance to a boxed brand of Mac and cheese and no it’s not the one you’re thinking of. I was obsessed with President’s Choice brand White Cheddar Mac and Cheese. It seemed sharper and more cheesy than the more ubiquitous Kraft Dinner. An attribute I would further enhance by swapping the butter called for on the back of the box for goat cheese. And it wasn’t a one-for-one swap. I added considerably more cheese than was called for. I would sometimes mix in a tin of tuna in my university days to stretch the meal further. I’d even add a handful of baby spinach if I was feeling particularly guilty about my eating habits that week.
What I didn’t realize in my teens and early 20s, is I could have skipped the box altogether. For all the doctoring I was doing to the boxed stuff, I could – with only marginally more effort – make Mac and cheese from scratch. I was a mornay sauce away from a fully home-cooked meal and I didn’t even know it. So today I’m going to right this wrong by showing you just how simple it is to make you’re own mac and cheese.
We’re going to kick this White Cheddar Chili Mac off by sautéing some shallots. Shallots offer such a nice umami note to the finished dish and introducing their punchy flavor profile right from the start sets this dish up for success. Add a generous pinch of salt and sauté until the shallots are softened. Remove them from the pot using a slotted spoon and set them aside.
Now it’s time to build a roux. A roux is an essential component of soups and sauces. It’s a very worthy and useful technique to learn and refine. Start by adding butter to the pot. I like to use unsalted butter for this, so I have full control over the salt content. If you don’t have unsalted butter, use salted. Just be aware of it when it comes time to add salt to the sauce. We will have a few salty elements, like copious amounts of cheese, going into this sauce, so I would recommend approaching your pinch bowl with caution.
Once the butter has melted, whisk in the flour. You should have a nice thick paste. You can toast this paste to turn it a deeper shade of brown. This will give the roux a richer more caramelized flavor. But it’s not particularly important in this dish. You may want to save that for gumbo. Whisk in some milk. Do this gradually to ensure a smooth sauce. Once all the milk is in there, it’s time to add the spices. There is nothing unusual here. Just chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne, and a little ground coriander seed. Add a little salt at this point. But no more than half a teaspoon because we’re about to add a whole whack of cheese.
We’re going to add some goat cheese to the sauce. You know, for old time’s sake. White chili, which is essentially what we’re making here, usually contains some type of white cheese. Sometimes it’s cream cheese, other times it is a white Monterey Jack. But I’m staying true to my past and adding goat cheese and shredded white cheddar – the sharper the better. Once the cheese has melted, stir in a drained can of white beans, the shallots you sautéed earlier, and a can of drained green chilis. Keep the sauce on the barest simmer until the beans are heated through. Don’t let the sauce come to a boil or it’ll be curdle city.
Add some slightly undercooked pasta. I used lumachine rather than traditional macaroni. But really any style of short pasta will do. Add some fresh quartered and sliced jalapeños and toss to coat. Now taste and season with a little more salt if you want to. All the salty elements are in the sauce at this point, so it’s easier to tell if the dish is coming up short. It’s better to fall short when it comes to salt than to overshoot things.
Spoon the pasta into onion soup bowls. I think the individual servings are adorable. But if this seems overly fussy, spoon the pasta into a casserole dish instead. And if you’re more of a stove top mac fan, stop here. Spoon the pasta into a bowl and into your mouth. But if you like tiny pots of food and pasta al forno, stick with me. Cover the pasta with additional cheddar and crush corn chips. Pop the bowls into the oven and bake until bubbly, golden, and melty. Top with sour cream or yogurt, a wedge of avocado, jalapeño rings, and fresh cilantro.
And there you go! White Cheddar Chili Mac gussied up in a French onion soup bowl with an avocado fascinator and a corn chip lid. Comfort food at its finest and most potent.
White Cheddar Chili Mac
- 4 French onion soup bowls
- 1 Large pot
- 1 Large, deep skillet
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 shallots sliced into half-moons
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 cups 2% milk
- 2 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp salt
- 200g (7oz) sharp white cheddar shredded, divided
- 150g (5oz) goat cheese
- 1 (540ml) can white beans drained
- 1 (127ml) can green chiles
- 250g (9oz) dried lumachine or macaroni **
- 2 jalapeños quartered and sliced
- ½ cup corn chips crushed
- ⅓ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro torn
- 1 avocado cut into wedges
- 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes for sprinkling
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Arrange four French onion soup bowls on a baking sheet. Set it aside.
- Pour olive oil into a large deep skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the shallots and a generous pinch of salt. Sauté until just translucent. Take the shallots out of the pan using a slotted spoon and set them aside.2 tbsp olive oil, 3 shallots
- Add butter to the skillet. Once the butter has melted, whisk in the flour to form a roux. Slowly stream in the milk while whisking constantly until a smooth sauce forms.2 tbsp unsalted butter, 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, 2 cups 2% milk
- Whisk in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper, ground coriander, and salt. Bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the goat cheese and 3/4 of the cheddar. Stir until they melt. Return the shallots to the skillet and stir in the white beans and green chiles. Simmer for 10 minutes. ***2 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp dried oregano, ½ tsp cayenne pepper, ½ tsp ground coriander, ½ tsp salt, 200g (7oz) sharp white cheddar, 150g (5oz) goat cheese, 1 (540ml) can white beans, 1 (127ml) can green chiles
- While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of water up to a boil. Liberally salt the water and add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is just shy of al dente. Drain and set it aside.250g (9oz) dried lumachine or macaroni **
- Add the pasta and the jalapeños to the skillet and stir to combine. Taste and season with additional salt accordingly. Spoon the pasta into the French onion soup bowls. Cover the pasta with the remaining cheddar and corn chips. Transfer the bowls to the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until golden and bubbly.2 jalapeños, ½ cup corn chips
- Take the bowls out of the oven and top with the yogurt, avocado, cilantro, and crushed red pepper flakes. Serve immediately.⅓ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt, ¼ cup fresh cilantro, 1 avocado, 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes