At the heart of the world-renowned Esalen Institute, the retreat center located on the sacred cliffs above the Pacific ocean in Big Sur, California, is its kitchen, where food is made daily from the organic farm on its grounds. Here from the head chef, Charlie Cascio, is the classic comfort food with a zing of a twist: Green Chile Macaroni and Cheese.
Mid-winter is the traditional time for good ‘ol comfort food, but this unusual take on the classic macaroni and cheese will hit the spot any time of year. With a bit of a festive flare, the dish is as fun for a party as to cheer up any night of the week.
5 quarts water
1½ tablespoons salt (for cooking the macaroni)
1 pound elbow macaroni
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pasilla chile powder
1 can (8 ounces) mild green chile strips, drained and finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
5 cups milk
2 cups grated pepper jack cheese
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
4 scallions, chopped in small rounds
1 bag Mexican-flavored corn chips (or regular corn chips)
1. Pulse corn chips in a food processor approximately 10 times until they are small to medium crumbs. If you don’t have a food processor, place them in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. Set aside for topping.
2. In a large pot, bring 5 quarts of water to boil. Add the 1½ tablespoons salt and the macaroni, stirring as you pour the pasta into the water. Cook the pasta, stirring occasionally, until it is chewy but firm (al dente). Drain the pasta and rinse in cold water; set aside.
3. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until it starts to bubble, and then whisk in the flour, 2 teaspoons salt, and chili powder. Whisk until it forms a paste; then add the green chile strips and the jalapeno pepper, stirring constantly. Add the milk and stir until the mixture boils, then reduce the heat to low and cook slowly until sauce is thick.
4. Cut off the heat and slowly sprinkle in the cheese, whisking or stirring until the cheese is fully melted. Add the cooked pasta, turn the heat to low, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Pour into a 9×11-inch baking dish and cover with crumbled corn-chip topping. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 minutes.
5. Remove from oven, let stand for 5 minutes, top with scallions and serve.
Adapted from Esalen Cookbook, by Charlie Cascio (Gibbs Smith Publishing, 2006).