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Jalapeño Popper Orzo Mac 'n Cheese

Jalapeño Popper Orzo Mac 'n Cheese


For the mac 'n cheese:

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 pound orzo

  • 1 stick butter (8 tablespoons), divided

  • 6 jalapeño peppers; 4 seeded and finely chopped, 2 sliced with seeds

  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

  • 1 onion, finely chopped

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 2 1/2 cups milk

  • Freshly ground pepper

  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

  • 4 ounces cream cheese

  • 2 cups panko

  • 2 Fresno chili peppers, sliced

For the guac salad:

  • 5 medium heirloom tomatoes, cut into thin wedges

  • 2 almost-ripe avocados, pitted, peeled and sliced

  • 1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped

  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced

  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), for drizzling

  • Juice of 2 limes

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped


For the mac-n-cheese: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and cook the orzo until al dente, about 6 minutes; drain. Meanwhile, heat 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped jalapeños, the garlic and onion and cook until the jalapeños and onion are soft, 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the milk and stir until the sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cheddar and cream cheese and stir until melted. Combine the orzo with the sauce and transfer to a casserole dish. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and toss with the panko to coat. Sprinkle over the casserole and top with the sliced jalapeños and Fresno chili peppers. For the guac salad: Gently toss the tomatoes, avocados, jalapeño and onion on a serving platter. Drizzle with EVOO and lime juice, season with salt and pepper and top with the cilantro. Divide the orzo mac 'n cheese among plates and serve with the guac salad. Cook's Note: The orzo casserole (without the breadcrumb topping) can be covered and refrigerated for a make-ahead meal. Reheat in a moderate oven, and make the guac salad, before serving.