The Sri Lankan family who run our local corner shop have recently expanded their range and started stocking a selection of fresh vegetables. It's a great idea - it's lovely to have somewhere to turn when you run out of garlic at 9pm. This dish was partly inspired by their slightly idiosyncratic selection.
The first day I noticed that they had fresh veg, my eye was caught by a punnet of something labelled "hot peppers". Now, they didn't have a variety on them but they appeared to be of the habanero, scotch bonnet type. I bought them and approached with caution. Which turned out to be a very good idea - we've been using about 1/4 of a chilli per dish and they have been plenty hot enough. In fact, my eyes burned after rubbing them 2 days after deseeding one of these chillis. I hope it goes without saying that I had washed my hands several times in that period.
A couple of days later I went back into the shop and saw polystyrene trays of long sweet peppers, the sort that are good for stuffing, only these were curled into little scrolls. For some reason this reminded me of the incredibly hot mixed chilli quesadilla I had at Wahaca a couple of years ago. I knew I wanted to eat chillis and cheese together.
In the end, I brought the long sweet peppers and the ridiculously hot peppers together in a macaroni cheese, with smoked cheese and homemade chipotle paste tying them all together. Because macaroni cheese sucks up so much seasoning, I braved using a whole hot chilli, which turned out to be the perfect level of spice for us.
Smoked chilli macaroni cheese (serves 4-6)
250g smoked cheddar, grated
1tsp minced chipotle in adobo
2 sweet red peppers, roasted, peeled and skinned
1 very hot chilli, finely sliced (more or less, depending on your chilli tolerance)
1tbs dried breadcrumbs
2tbs grated parmesan cheese
1/2tsp sweet pimenton (or sweet paprika)
Preheat oven to 160C
Boil the macaroni, leaving it slightly underdone, and drain and set aside. In the same saucepan, melt the butter, add the flour and cook to a smooth roux. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly, until it forms a smooth, thin sauce. Cook for a few minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Add the chipotle in adobo and then the cheese. Stir until the cheese melts. Taste for seasoning - it shouldn't need any extra salt, but I don't know your palate.
Add the drained macaroni (which will probably have set into a bit of a cake while it waited for the sauce, but will loosen up quickly when it meets the sauce), the sweet and hot chilli and stir well. Spread into a large baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the breadcrumbs and then the parmesan, then a little paprika or sweet pimenton.
Bake for 35-45 minutes until bubbly around the edges and crunchy on top. Serve with a green salad or some fruit.