Thursday, 28 June 2012

Chocolate chilli macaroni cheese

My last #foodiepenpals parcel contained a box of chocolate pasta. I was intrigued enough to do some research into the kind of dishes people usually make with it. I've used flavoured pasta before - squid ink, tomato, basil, etc - but I could see the possibility here to go two ways. Sweet or savoury.

I ended up bookmarking a few recipes to try later but as Ruth, my parcel donor, has also included a packet of pasilla chillies it seemed to logical to use them together - there's a long culinary history of using chilli and chocolate together, or even just chocolate with savoury dishes generally (the Mexican chicken in chocolate sauce I once ate in Antwerp was pretty memorable, for all the right reasons).
In the end, I decided to reinvent an old favourite. For who can resist macaroni cheese, one of the ultimate comfort foods? I wouldn't normally eat it at this time of year but the weather's been iffy enough for nippy evenings. I've used all the regular add-ons I throw into mac cheese - the challenge was to see if they were a good match for my parcel ingredients. They do - both the chocolate and the pasilla bring subtly exotic notes to the macaroni cheese, adding a pleasing extra dimension to it without overpowering it. You can taste all the different ingredients.

What you need: 
100g chocolate macaroni
1 pasilla chilli
150g lardons
1 small onion, finely chopped
100g cheddar cheese, grated
About 200g crème fraiche
Butter
Seasoning

What to do: 
Soak the chilli in hot water until it's soft, about 10-15 minutes. Boil the pasta for 8-10 minutes until it's al dente, drain and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. Sauté the onion gently in a small knob of butter until it's soft and transparent. Add the lardons and fry until cooked. Chop the pasilla finely and add to the pan then stir in the crème fraiche. Mix well. Add about two-thirds of the cheese and stir again. Season to taste.

Tip the macaroni into a small ovenproof dish, pour over the sauce and stir it through. Top with the rest of the cheese and bake at 180C for about 30 minutes until the top is golden, crispy and bubbling.

Cook's tips: 
The pasilla packaging warned it was hot, hotter than chipotle, so I was wary at first. On cutting open the rehydrated chilli I was shocked at the number of seeds inside and left them aside. On tasting the fruit, though, I discovered it's not so hot after all - all the seeds went into the sauce. If you want heat, add some fresh chilli but tread carefully.

I rarely bother to make a bechamel sauce for pasta. It's just extra carbs - crème fraiche alone works just as well to coat the macaroni in creaminess, even the low fat version I usually buy. The cheese also helps make the bechamel redundant.

Be sure to use a decent cheddar with a robust flavour. Anything like a mild Cheshire or Wensleydale will get lost among the competing ingredients.