One could speculate that, like my other recent Mac N’ Cheese recipe, this recipe is also the result of a pregnancy craving but the truth of the matter is that I love jalapeno poppers. I loved them before I was pregnant, I love them now that I am pregnant, and I’ll probably continue to love them after I am pregnant. The fact that I crave them at 10am is probably because I am pregnant but that is besides the point. It is this love affair with jalapeno poppers that prompted me to try my hand at jalapeno popper mac n’ cheese. And as it turns out jalapeno poppers and macaroni and cheese make a beautiful combination.
To get the true taste of jalapeno poppers two ingredients were obvious: jalapenos and cream cheese. Getting the crunch right was a bit more of a challenge. Should I try bread crumbs? Croutons? Ultimately I decided on panko because I tend to like jalapeno poppers that are coated in panko. In this dish, the panko bread crumbs added the perfect bit of crunch to the creaminess of the mac n’ cheese.
While I really enjoyed the baked version, if you are short on time and looking for a stove-top variation, I’d recommend cooking the pasta according to package directions, then follow the instructions up until 4. Instead of baking, place the mac and cheese in a bowl and top with crumbled potato chips. It sounds weird but trust me, it’s quiet delicious as well.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta for 6- 7 minutes or until tender but still has a bite to it. Drain.
Melt the butter in the same pot that you cooked the pasta in. Stir in jalapenos and cook just until softened, about 2 minutes. Whisk in flour. Cook 1 minute. Pour in milk. Stir in pepper jack and cream cheese. Cook until melted. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of seasoning salt. Stir in pasta. Adjust with more seasoning salt if needed.
Pour macaroni and cheese into a casserole dish. Sprinkle with panko bread crumbs. Drizzle olive oil over the top. Bake for 15 minutes or until pasta is bubbly. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 - 4 minutes or until panko bread crumbs have browned. Remove from oven, sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve hot.