A couple of weeks ago, I had the most rewarding book tour — to the Pacific Northwest, for Vegetable Literacy. Tours can be grueling, but this one wasn’t at all; it was interesting and truly fun. I met people doing things that encourage the best in us, made new friends, and saw old ones. I got to know Portland and Seattle a little better. I ate really excellent food and visited astonishing farmer’s markets — truly astonishing, since we were still in winter mode back home in New Mexico when I started the trip.
The hardest part — especially after visiting the Portland Farmers Market and seeing its gorgeous vegetables, flowers, mushrooms, and prepared foods — was not having a place to cook any of the wonderful foods I encountered. I was forced to be a tourist and take pictures rather than buy fiddlehead ferns and tender greens and bags of nettles.
But I did come home with energy in abundance. (Though to be honest, a day or two later I couldn’t stop yawning; I guess that book tours and other forms of travel do take their toll, even when they’re good.)
It was amazing to me to see such a green landscape. It was bliss to see the ocean. And it was just a little difficult to return to the brown terrain of the driest state in the union. But I have my way of getting home whether I like it or not, and that’s to eat something with chile — usually a cheese enchilada with a copious amount of red chile.
This time, though, I tried something different. I found a bag of frozen chile from last summer’s farmer’s market, and used it to make a dish of reheated spaghetti with the chile and plenty of Cheddar cheese. Even though I’m not a chile head, nor am I from New Mexico originally, it’s always chile that brings me home and stitches me once again to this place.
You could turn this into a fancy mac-and-cheese, but this way is more straightforward — except that I do like to add a few pinches of Berbere over all, and that way I get my red chile, too.
Though I made it with leftover spaghetti, that’s just because it was on hand. Cold noodles work well because if you’re using frozen chile, you need to warm up the whole thing, and that’s how you do it: put all of the ingredients in a pan with a little butter and toss until the cheese melts.
Two ounces (OK, three) makes an ample portion of pasta. If you’re using frozen chile, drain its juices before adding it to the pan. If you’re roasting your own chile, use 5 to 6 chiles to get ½ cup. If they’re searing hot, you might want less.
4 to 6 ounces dried spaghetti
½ cup chopped roasted green chile
2 ounces grated Cheddar cheese (preferably not aged)
2 tablespoons butter
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Ground red chile or Berbere spice mix (optional)
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add plenty of salt, then the pasta, and cook until the pasta is done to your taste.
Meanwhile, drain the frozen chile (or roast some fresh chiles) and grate the cheese. Have a wide skillet ready with the butter, melting.
When the pasta is done, drain it well and then add it to the pan and turn it in the butter. Add the chile and cheese and cook over medium–high heat, turning it over and over until the cheese has melted. Taste for salt and season with pepper.
Serve just as it is, or sprinkled with ground red chile or a good pinch of Berbere spice mix.
Note: Check your freezer section for frozen chopped green chile from Hatch, New Mexico, usually made by Bueno.
Related recipe: Spaghetti with Green Chile and Cheese
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