Roasted Red Pepper Mac and Cheese
1 pound dried elbow macaroni
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup flour
6 cups warmed milk (in a microwave for a few minutes)
24 ounces white cheddar, shredded
3 jarred, roasted red peppers, drained and pureed (use a blender or mini food processor)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Spanish smoked paprika (sweet or hot)
Freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups crushed Cheez-Its, for garnish
Bring a pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add a generous pinch of salt and the macaroni; cook to al dente (a little underdone), according to the package directions. Drain well, then return to the pot.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a deep saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour; whisk constantly for a few minutes to form a smooth paste (roux). Increase the heat to medium-high; gradually add the warmed milk while you continue to whisk, forming a smooth sauce. Cook for a total of 3 to 5 minutes, then add the shredded cheddar in two or three additions, allowing the batches to melt each time.
Add the pureed red peppers, mustard, smoked paprika, and a pinch of black pepper, stirring to incorporate. The sauce should be a deep orange color; taste, and add salt, as needed.
Pour the sauce into the macaroni, stirring to coat evenly. Cook over low heat for a few minutes, to meld flavors and warm the pasta through.
To serve, transfer to a warmed serving dish and top with the crushed Cheez-Its.
Serves 10 to 12
Nutrition: Calories: 530; Total Fat: 30 g; Saturated Fat: 19 g; Cholesterol: 95 mg; Sodium: 530 mg; Carbohydrates: 43 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugars: 8 g; Protein: 23 g.
Adapted from "Great Food Finds Washington D.C.: Delicious Food From the Nation's Capital," by Beth Kantor (Globe Pequot Press, 2018).