November 01, 2006
Baked pasta is a popular execution which can range from the simple combination of noodle-of-choice with sauce-of-choice, generally topped with cheese and popped into the oven, to elaborate layers of disparate ingredients which meld into a glorious and highly specfic dish, such as the classic lasagna al forno. Whenever you stray too far into the realm of binders, breadcrumbs, and cross-culture fusion, however, it generally becomes safe to call the resulting concoction a casserole.
Mexican is a frequent flying flavour, at our house. That is to say, I cook a number of straight-up Mexican dishes, as well as the odd Tex-Mex or Cali-Mex items thrown in. I also am not at all above flinging Mexican flavours into decidedly non-Mexican dinners - in part because I believe many dishes improve with a little hot sauce added, and in part because I simply like the flavours, and am quick to reach for the ground chipotle or jalapenos to spruce up a dish that is otherwise lacking.
This is a variation on a Cooking Light recipe - I haven't gotten the perfect texture yet, so some experimenting is yet to occur. The basic structure is this:
Chipotle Macaroni Casserole
Sautee an onion with half a green pepper (diced), until softened slightly. Sprinkle with chipotle powder and a little flour (about a tablespoon or two) and stir in some minced garlic, and minced or pureed chipotle in adobo sauce, along with some cumin and oregano.
When the mixture starts to stick, add a 398 ml / 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes with their juice, and stir well until thick and bubbly. Next, stir in about a cup of milk, and a cup of ricotta mixed well with a beaten egg. Reduce heat to low and stir until well integrated. Mix in a couple of handfuls of cheese - Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Parmesan - whatever spirit moves you, really, and turn off heat. Taste the sauce and adjust for salt and pepper, hot sauce (feel free to add whatever hot sauce strikes your fancy), and general flavour components.
Stir in cooked pasta - approximately 4 cups of cooked macaroni or its equivalent - and some nice diced, cooked chicken breast - great for leftovers - and pour the whole lot into a casserole dish. Top with a little more cheese, and breadcrumbs, if you like that sort of thing and can be bothered. Cover lightly and bake at 350 F for about half an hour, or until bubbling and browned.
Leftovers, should there be any, reheat well on medium heat in the microwave.