On a cold rainy day what could be better than comfort food? For those macaroni and cheese lovers out there, here's a Mexican version that will warm the cockles of your heart and if you use a heavy hand with the chipoltes, as I do, it will warm everything from your lips, tongue, soft palate and esophagus all the way to your stomach!
This is one of my favorite, quick, easy, tasty dishes, thanks to Mary Sue Milliken and Sue Fenniger, those Too Hot Tamales. Served as is, straight from the oven on the first day, and then it transforms itself, with the help of a few cups of chicken broth and some broken corn chips, into a fabulous simulated tortilla soup the next day. Nothing could be easier.
Start by tossing four good sized, chopped, ripe plum tomatoes into the blender along with a cut up medium yellow onion, 3 - 4 good sized cloves of garlic, a generous teaspoon of salt and a half cup of water. Puree, then add another cup of filtered water to the tomato mixture. Break up a half pound of skinny noodles. I like to use vermicelli but you could also use the ones labeled 'thin' spaghetti.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in an oven proof pan and add the broken pieces of noodles, turning them as they brown. Be careful they don't burn. Once the oil is hot, I turn the heat down to medium to allow the pasta to brown slowly. When most of the noodles have browned, add 3 - 4 dried chipoltes. The more chilies, the hotter the final dish. Toss the noodles and chilies around in the hot pan for another 5 minutes or so then add the tomato puree, cover the pan with foil and place in the hot oven for 15 minutes. All the liquid should be absorbed and the noodles should be soft. While this is cooking, grate 6 - 8 oz of cheese. Ideally, you should use anejo, but I've used everything from Cheddar to Jack to Monterrey and combinations thereof.
The pictured dish was made with about 6 oz of Monterrey/Jack cheese. Once the noodles are soft, raise the temperature of the oven to 400°, carefully remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle on the grated cheese and return to the oven, uncovered, for another 10 minutes or until the cheese has melted and started to brown in spots. That's it. It's ready to eat - the tastiest macaroni and cheese on the planet. The quantities given above make the amount shown. Double the quantity and pour into a 9 x 13 baking dish for a larger serving.
If you have leftovers, heat a quart of chicken broth, add the fideo and serve with some broken corn chips in the serving dish, a dash of fresh lime juice and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro give it a professional finish but the soup is fine with nothing extra added. Add this to your quick, easy, economical, superbly satisfying repertoire.
Till next time. . . keep on cooking!