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Jalapeno Bacon Mac & Cheese

Jalapeno Bacon Mac & Cheese
Paula Nemzek for KCTS 9 Cooks

As a main dish, or served on the side, fresh jalapenos and a generous amount of bacon make this rich, decadent mac and cheese irresistible.

serves 8 to 10

  • 1 pound rotini or macaroni pasta
  • 1 pound thick-sliced applewood smoked bacon, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 large jalapeno peppers, ribs and seeds removed, diced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 cups milk (whole, skim or 2%)
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, cut into 8 to 10 pieces, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Colby-Jack cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook according to package directions to al dente. Drain and set aside, tossing to separate the noodles.

In the meantime, heat a large (12-inch) skillet with high sides over medium-high heat. Drop in bacon pieces and cook until crispy. Stir occasionally as needed. It will seem as if the bacon will never cook down, but at about 5 minutes, it all comes together.

Remove cooked bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper-towel-lined plate. Drain fat from the pan, reserving 2 tablespoons.

Meanwhile, as bacon cooks, mix cream cheese pieces with milk in a small saucepan. Heat on medium-low, stirring, until mixture is smooth and comes almost to a bubble.

Wipe down the bacon pan, reduce heat to medium, and add reserved bacon fat and the butter. Add diced jalapenos and saute about 4 minutes, until softened. Quickly add flour and whisk in. Add salt and cayenne and stir until combined. Your roux (the flour and fat mixture) shouldn’t get beyond a pale gold color. Remove from heat if it starts to darken.

Add cream cheese mixture to the roux mixture and stir to combine. Bring to a low bubble and cook about 3 minutes, making sure to scrape up any bits from the pan. Add cheddar and Colby-Jack; stir until mixture is smooth.

Add pasta to the sauce. If your skillet isn’t big enough, transfer the whole thing to the pasta pot. Stir to combine, then add in all but 3 tablespoons of the bacon. Stir everything together for about 5 minutes over medium heat so the pasta absorbs some of the sauce.

Sprinkle with reserved bacon and serve, accompanied by a fresh green salad to make up for this calorie-laden treat.

Note: As a spice wimp, I worried about the jalapenos and cayenne in this recipe. Because you remove the seeds and ribs from the jalapenos, and cook them before adding to the mixture, the dish has just a mild bite. Adjust heat to your taste!