Peppers and onions add some heat to this baked dish, a quintessential summer side
Credit: Courtesy Annie's Eats

Blogger Annie M. of Annie’s Eats has a major declaration: she thinks this spicy, cheesy dish is her favorite version of the classic. “The added spice of this one just makes it more appealing to me,” she writes. “The cheese sauce was creamy and the vegetables added great flavor.”

It’s true: Peppers, onions and jalapeños add texture and heat, though Annie calls the side just “mild-moderately” spicy, keeping it appropriate for guests who prefer a little less kick. Feel free to add additional peppers, though, and be sure to save a serving or two as leftovers.

Spicy Mac and Cheese

Serves 6 to 8
• 1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
• 1/3 cup roasted red pepper (jarred or home roasted), finely chopped
• 1-2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and finely minced
• 6½ Tbsp. butter, divided
• 4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
• 2½ cups milk
• ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
• ¼ tsp. onion powder
• ¼ tsp. garlic powder
• ½ tsp. salt
• ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
• 8 oz. Colby jack cheese, shredded
• 4 oz. pepper jack cheese, shredded
• 4 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
• 4 oz. baguette or crusty Italian bread, torn into large chunks

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. When the water boils, cook the pasta according to the package directions. In the meantime, melt ½ Tbsp. of butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, red pepper and jalapeño to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until fragrant and tender, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, melt 4 Tbsp. of butter over medium-high heat. Once the butter is completely melted, whisk in the flour. Cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it turns a light golden brown color and begins to foam, about 2 minutes. (Be careful not to burn!) Whisk in the milk until well blended. Cook the mixture, whisking or stirring frequently, until it begins to bubble and thicken, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Whisk in the spices. Add the cheeses to the mixture and whisk until completely melted and well incorporated. Remove the mixture from the heat.
3. Preheat the oven to 375º F. Grease a 2-quart casserole dish. Return the drained pasta to the large pot. Add in the cooked vegetables and the cheese sauce, and mix until well blended. Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish.
4. Use a food processor to pulse the bread into coarse crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a small bowl. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and toss with the bread crumbs. (I also mixed in a dash of cayenne pepper.) Sprinkle the crumb mixture in an even layer on top of the pasta. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the mixture is heated through and the topping is golden brown. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.