Macaroni and cheese – every cook’s secret weapon. No picky eater can resist it! This Creamy Mac and Cheese with Jalapeño and Corn is a little spicy, a little sweet, and very, very cheesy. Yum!
Give Classic Baked Mac and Cheese a Spicy Upgrade!
Mac and cheese is a favorite, but this creamy mac and cheese with jalapeño and corn is on a whole new level! So why jalapeño and corn? Well, I have a confession to make. For years, I’ve planted chilis and peppers in my garden each season, and year after year, I plant way more than we need. (My husband is the culprit – he always talks me into growing way more than the average family could ever need, to be honest.)
With all of those spicy peppers, I need a good way to use them up in recipes. This macaroni was the result of trying to use up our jalapeños. I added one large one to the recipe, which made it spicy enough for my taste. But of course, hubby added an extra pepper to his dish – so it’s definitely a matter of how hot you like your food!
This is a homemade, from-scratch recipe, so you’ll need a handful of basic pantry staples to pull it together. No boxed mixes here! Here’s what you’ll need:
- Butter: Unsalted butter, some for the sauce and a little bit for greasing your dish.
- Panko: Panko breadcrumbs add a nice crunch to the top of the dish. You could also use crushed crackers or regular breadcrumbs.
- Milk: Whole milk, warmed up a bit so that it incorporates into the sauce easily.
- Flour: A little bit of all-purpose flour thickens the sauce beautifully.
- Seasonings: Salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper.
- Cheese: To give this dish plenty of cheesy goodness, I’m using white cheddar and Gruyere. Freshly-grated cheese is best, because pre-shredded tends to have anti-caking agents in it. Anti-caking agents can change the creamy texture of the sauce.
- Corn: Sweet corn – fresh or frozen is fine.
- Jalapeño: Seed and finely dice one large jalapeño pepper, or two of them if you like it spicy!
- Pasta: Any medium pasta, like elbow macaroni or fusilli.
Should I Use Milk or Heavy Cream for Mac and Cheese?
Since this macaroni and cheese is made with a roux (butter and flour cooked together), it gets nice and thick without using heavy cream. However, you could definitely use heavy cream or half-and-half instead of milk if you want. (But use caution – heavy cream will make the mac very rich, maybe a little too rich for some people’s tastes!)
What Are the Three Best Cheeses for Mac and Cheese?
If I had to choose my top three cheeses for making macaroni and cheese, they would definitely include cheddar and Gruyere at the top – those are the two I use in this recipe. Both are amazing “melting” cheeses, and the combination of sharp cheddar with nutty Gruyere is basically unbeatable. For a third option, I would have to recommend Gouda – it’s got a mild, ultra-creamy taste (and you can buy smoked gouda, too, for a smoky flavor).
How to Make Creamy Mac and Cheese with Corn and Jalapenos
The cooking process basically boils down to making the pasta and making a cheese sauce, both of which are easy to do. These step by step instructions are all you need to get started.
- Get Ready to Bake. Heat your oven to 375°F, and butter your casserole dish to prevent sticking when we add the macaroni and sauce.
- Make the Crumb Topping and Pasta. Next, make the crumb topping by melting the butter and stirring in the breadcrumbs. Set this aside. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, and set that aside too.
- Cook the Sauce. Now it’s time to make that gorgeous, cheesy sauce! Melt your butter in a skillet over medium heat, and then whisk in the flour to make a smooth paste. Cook and whisk for one minute or so, and then whisk in the milk slowly. Cook and whisk some more, until the sauce bubbles and thickens.
- Add the Seasonings, Cheese, Jalapeno, and Corn. Take the sauce off of the heat, and stir in the salt, nutmeg, pepper, cayenne, and most of the cheddar and Gruyere. Add the corn and the jalapeño, and set the sauce aside.
- Assemble the Casserole. Stir the pasta into the cheese sauce, and pour the whole batch into your prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top, and the breadcrumbs, too.
- Bake! Bake your creamy mac and cheese until it’s browned on top. This takes about 30 minutes.
- Cool and Serve. Cool the dish on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before serving.
I hope you’re feeling inspired (and hungry!) after reading this recipe. It’s really a great combination of flavors and textures, and so easy to make. These helpful tips will make it even easier!
- Sauce Thickness: When you’re making the cheesy sauce, be sure to let it thicken properly. It should coat the back of a spoon, but not be sludgy or pasty. If it thickens too much, add a splash more milk.
- Adding Meat: This recipe is scrumptious as a vegetarian dish, but it’s also great with a little meat of your choice. Ham, bacon (or turkey bacon), maybe some crumbled Italian sausage or diced, sauteed chicken… it’s all good!
- Adding Greens: This kind of cheesy dish is great for sneaking extra veggies in. Broccoli florets, chopped small, work really well – so does chopped, sauteed spinach. You could also do cooked carrots, peas, chopped onions and bell peppers, or whatever you like.
Yummy Ideas for Serving
A creamy mac and cheese casserole like this one is perfect for adding to a big family meal, or for taking to a potluck. However, it’s so hearty and cheesy that it also makes a great vegetarian main course! If you serve it that way, you’ll want some side dishes to go with. Try these and see what you think!
- Beet Salad: A fresh green salad, like this Goat Cheese Roasted Beet Salad, is great with creamy mac and cheese. A perfect contrast of tastes and textures.
- Watermelon Salad: This Watermelon Cucumber Salad with Feta and Mint is a really different take on salad, combining sweet watermelon chunks with cool cucumber, mint, and feta cheese. It’s sweet, savory, and super refreshing!
- Brussels Sprouts: For a warm side dish that’s both filling and light, try making these Sauteed Brussels Sprouts. Crisp-tender and caramelized, sauteed brussels sprouts are super easy to make, and super irresistible, too.
How to Store and Reheat
This creamy mac and cheese can be safely stored in your fridge for up to three days. Keep it well-covered (I like to put it in airtight containers) to keep other food odors out.
To reheat, bake the mac and cheese at 350°F until heated through. You can also microwave the macaroni, if you prefer.
Can I Freeze This Macaroni and Cheese Recipe?
While you can freeze baked macaroni and cheese, I don’t necessarily recommend it. Freezing and thawing can really affect the texture of the pasta and the cheesy sauce, and it can dull the already mild flavors in this recipe, as well.
However, if you have leftovers to freeze, they can definitely be safely frozen for up to three months. Freeze the leftovers in airtight containers or freezer bags, and thaw in your refrigerator before reheating.
Creamy Mac and Cheese with Jalapeno and Corn
- 1 stick unsalted butter plus more for dish
- 1 1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
- 5 cups whole milk warmed
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 4 1/2 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese
- 2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
- 1 generous cup of sweet corn fresh or frozen (I used corn from two ears)
- 1 large jalapeño pepper seeded and finely diced, two if you like it spicy
- 1 pound elbow macaroni or fusilli pasta
- Heat oven to 375 degrees.
- Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside.
- In a medium bowl melt 2 tablespoons of butter then add bread crumbs, stir to mix, and set aside.
- Cook pasta according to directions and set aside.
- Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a deep skillet over medium heat.
- When butter bubbles, add flour and cook, whisking for about 1 minute.
- While whisking, slowly pour in milk.
- Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
- Remove pan from heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere, corn and jalapeño. Set cheese sauce aside.
- Stir pasta into the reserved cheese sauce.
- Pour mixture into prepared dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyere and breadcrumbs over top.
- Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes.
- Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool 5 minutes; serve hot.