In my kitchen, I have a decorative tile that declares "Una comida sin chile es como un día sin sol" - "A meal without chiles is like a day without sun." As a born and bred Californian, one of the flavors of home I miss most is the rich, earthy, sweet and spicy essence of roasted chiles that define so many traditional Mexican dishes. Here in New York, I stubbornly try to grow many of the heat-loving vegetables that I grew up eating (with varied success!) so that I can continue to make delicious food that reminds me of home. Two chile varieties that have thrived in our greenhouse are Poblanos and Anaheims, both Mexican hot chiles that are delicious and extremely adaptable to a wide variety of recipes and cooking techniques.
You may have seen these two chile varieties at the stand - Poblanos are large and dark green, with a mild heat and rich sweet flavor. They are great for stuffing and grilling or mixing into chili and other stews, where their complex flavor adds a deeper dimension than chile powder or jalapeños alone. Anaheim chiles are skinnier and lighter green, with a medium-hot punch. We grow the same variety as the famous "Hatch chile" of New Mexico, which are Anaheim cultivars grown in the Hatch Valley, NM that are wildly popular with foodies and chefs. They are called "Anaheims" when grown in California, thanks to pepper grower Emilio Ortega (yes, THAT Ortega of canned chile fame!) who introduced them to the city of Anaheim in 1894. The original Ortega family ranchero was located in my hometown of Ventura, CA, where you can still visit their historical adobe home.
Both Poblano and Anaheim chiles ripen from green to red, and can be used at either stage. While they can be sliced up raw and used in recipes without any special preparation, their flavor really shines when they are roasted and peeled before using in recipes. Peeling and roasting chiles is simple, but does take some time. I like to do a big batch in the fall and freeze the peeled and roasted chiles in ziplock bags. That way, I can pull out prepared chiles and slice off a chunk whenever I need them during the rest of the year.
How to Roast and Peel Chiles
Preheat your broiler on high. Arrange chiles in a single layer on a baking sheet, and broil until the skin is blistered and blackened on one side. Turn the chiles so that every side is blistered.
Take the chiles out of the oven and put them immediately into a large plastic ziplock bag. Fold the top of the bag over to gently close (do not seal the zipper, or steam will build up inside!) and let the chiles steam for a couple of minutes. When the chiles are cool enough to handle, gently peel the skin off the chiles. Cut the stem off the chile, then use a small knife to carefully slice open the chile along its length. Remove the seeds and veins. Use immediately, or freeze in ziplock bags.
Roasted Chile Mac n' Cheese
This is one of our favorite recipes that uses roasted and peeled chiles. It's easy to make in winter when you want a nice, hot, cheesy comfort food, and can be made with fresh or frozen chiles. It's also great as a side dish at a summer barbecue - we served this at our wedding pig roast, and it was a big hit! Our caterer still makes this mac n' cheese after preparing it first for our wedding!
You can use either Poblano or Anaheim chiles in this recipe. Anaheims will be a bit spicier than Poblanos. The cornbread crumbles can be either store-bought or homemade. I will often make a batch of cornbread and freeze the leftovers to use later in this recipe.
Want more recipes using delicious Poblano and Anaheim chiles? Check out my Grilled Poblano "Poppers" and Grilled Chile, Sweet Corn, and Summer Squash Tacos!
1 lb dry macaroni
1/2 c butter
1 small onion, diced
1/4 cup flour
2 c milk
1 lb sharp cheddar, grated
3 large Anaheim or Poblano chiles, roasted, peeled and chopped
2 c cornbread crumbles
Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350 F. Bring a large pot of water to boil, then salt generously. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Saute onions until lightly browned. Stir in flour and cook, stirring continuously, until roux just starts to turn a light golden brown. Pour in milk and cook until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in cheese, one handful at a time, until melted. Stir in chopped roasted peppers. Salt to taste.
Pour sauce over pasta and stir to combine. Pour into a 9 x 13" baking dish and top with cornbread crumbles. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and the cornbread is beginning to brown. Enjoy!