In keeping with our theme of spicy foods for September, here is a delightful little recipe I dreamed up for a white habanero-infused mac n cheese. It’s got just the right amount of spice, and with chunks of pumpkin and thick-cut, smoky bacon mixed into the macaroni, it’s a hearty dish to start your autumn off right.
Kickin’ Pumpkin & Bacon Mac N Cheese
This recipe is loosely adapted from Laura Macek’s award-winning Best Ever Mac N Cheese.
- 1 pound of elbow macaroni or cavatelli pasta
- 4 slices thick cut bacon
- 1 cup of raw pumpkin, butternut, or red kuri squash, cubed
- 4 tbs butter
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 2 white habaneros, finely minced
- ¼ cup all purpose flour
- 3 ½ cups whole milk
- 2 cups extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 ½ cups Gruyere cheese, grated
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ½ cup breadcrumbs
- ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the macaroni. Remove the pasta 3 minutes sooner than it says on the package instructions. It’s okay it’s still a little al dente—it will finish cooking when it goes in the oven to bake. Drain and rinse under cold water. Pour cooked macaroni into greased baking sheet.
- Cook the bacon until crispy. Remove to a paper towel to drain. Reserve 1 tbs of bacon fat. Crumble the bacon when cool.
- Sauté pumpkin cubes over medium heat in bacon fat 5-6 minutes, until starting to brown. Remove pumpkin, and mix into the cooked pasta in the greased baking dish, reserving as much fat in the pan as possible.
- Add butter to reserved bacon fat. Sauté shallots and minced habaneros over low heat in remaining butter until shallots become translucent. Whisk in the flour and cook 1-2 minutes more. Increase heat to medium and, whisking constantly, slowly pour in the milk and continue whisking until mixture begins to bubble.
- Remove from heat and stir in the Cheddar and Gruyere cheeses, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Pour cheese sauce over macaroni and pumpkin and stir to evenly distribute.
- Combine breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and bacon and sprinkle over top.
- Bake until cheese is completely melted and the top is slightly browned. 20-30 minutes. Enjoy!
This dish goes exceptionally well with Southern-style BBQ meats like pulled pork and brisket, which is how I found out that a little bit of BBQ sauce on top just makes it that much more delicious.
What goes better with margaritas than salsa and guacamole? Pretty much nothing. Which is why I came up with these spicy versions of the beloved classics to go with the Habanero Watermelon Margaritas I posted earlier this week.
Salsa and guacamole may seem like a no brainer appetizer, but adding a hot and unexpected twist to these time-honored crowd-pleasers in the form of minced white habaneros will keep your dinner guests on their toes and clamoring for more. So break out the spice and don’t forget to keep the margarita refills handy!
A Note on Handling Hot Peppers
Real quick, before we dive into the recipes, I just want to remind everyone to please be careful when handling ultra-hot peppers like habaneros, scotch bonnets, and the like. If you’ve ever touched your eyes after chopping jalapeños, you know what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t made that mistake yet, trust me– it is not fun. I always wear disposable gloves when handling super hot peppers, and I highly recommend you do the same. Now, let’s get chopping!
Habanero Tomato Salsa
This salsa is fresh and light, with a mild heat.
- 3 cups diced tomatoes, approx. 5-6 small tomatoes
- ¼ cup packed cilantro leaves
- ¼ cup chopped onion
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 habanero, sliced thin, seeds and all
- ¼ tsp cumin powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp sugar
- juice of one lime
Pulse everything in a blender or food processor until it reaches your desired consistency. Refrigerate for an hour before serving to allow flavors to meld together.
Holy Moly Habanero Guacamole
This guacamole gets a lovely hint of sweetness from the mango, and a bit of heat from the seedless habaneros. Spoon lavishly onto corn chips and dunk into the Habanero Salsa for added heat.
- 4 large avocados
- 2 limes, juiced
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- 1 mango, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 white habanero, seeds removed and minced
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Scoop avocado flesh into a large bowl and mash together until it reaches your desired consistency. Squeeze lime juice into bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix until combined.
To store guacamole, cover with saran wrap and press wrap down so that it touches the surface of the guacamole to prevent discoloration.
Looking for a perfect beverage to get you through the final days of summer? Look no further. This watermelon and habanero margarita perfectly matches the weather as we head into the first days of fall. It starts off cool and refreshing with a hint of sweetness from the watermelon, just like those first crisp days of September. Then the habanero kicks in, like a late summer heatwave, just when you thought you were through with all that. It’s sassy, sultry, and definitely not for the faint of heart.
My summer garden is beginning the slow descent into dormancy for the winter, but my hot pepper plants are just starting to ripen into their final fiery colors: white habaneros, orange scotch bonnets, red and purple Filius Blues, and the mother of all things spicy– ghost peppers.
As they’ve started to ripen, first one by one, and then two by two, and now all in a jumbled mess of super-heat, I’ve started to panic. When one or two habaneros is enough to bring a pot of chili to my perfect heat level, how on earth am I possibly going to eat the dozens of peppers that are practically dripping off my plants? I’ve had to get creative to find new places to sneak in the heat. This watermelon habanero margarita is the first of a string of hot pepper recipes I’ll be posting over the coming month, so keep your eyes peeled for a host of tongue-tingling recipes as part of my new month-long series: September Spice!
White Habanero Watermelon Margaritas
Serves 6, or 4 thirsty individuals.
Not sure if you can take the heat? Don’t worry. These margaritas are the perfect blend of sweet and sour with just a hint of spice. But if it’s still too much you can modify the recipe to use a jalapeño instead, or omit the peppers altogether. You can make these with traditional red or pink watermelon, or try it with an heirloom yellow watermelon for a fun twist! Or be like me and make both!
To make the Habanero Tequila:
- 2 cups tequila
- 1 white habanero, sliced into rounds
Place habanero slices in a pint-sized mason jar or other sealable container. Pour tequila over top and seal. Let sit for 4 hours or overnight. Strain out habanero pieces before using.
To make the Margaritas:
- 1 cup habanero tequila
- ¾ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
- 3 oz Cointreau
- 1 oz agave syrup
- 6 cups cubed watermelon, orange or pink
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Add all ingredients to a blender and whiz until smooth. Strain to removed watermelon pulp, or leave as is for a little extra texture. Pour over ice and enjoy with some salsa and guac!