Chili mac is one of those perfect comfort foods: chili, cheese and loads of pasta all baked together. Yum!
I bought a copy of America's Test Kitchen: Best Weeknight Meals when I was at the supermarket a few weeks ago, and found this chili mac recipe inside. As soon as I saw it I knew I wanted it. I had forgotten all about chili mac - I don't think I've had it since I was little! :)
Of course I can't help but mess with a recipe, so I changed this chili mac up a little to be a bit spicier and have more cheese. :D
This recipe makes a 9x13 inch pan of chili mac - enough to feed a whole crowd for a night or (in my case) a couple people for a few days. :)
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Step 1: Ingredients + Tools
- 1 1/2 pounds ground beef (I used 1 pound just because it's what I had on hand - so no worries if that's all you've got!)
- 8 oz of elbow macaroni
- 2 medium onions, diced finely
- 1 red bell pepper, diced finely
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon hot pepper powder of choice (optional - I used chipotle!)
- 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
- 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
- 28 oz can tomato puree
- 3 cups colby jack cheese, shredded
You'll also need a 9x13 baking dish and an oven set to 400 F / 205 C.
Step 2: Boil the Pasta and Reserve 3/4 Cup of the Cooking Water
Boil 8 ounces of elbow macaroni in well salted water - add at least a tablespoon of salt to it!
Once it's al dente (you want it to be a little bit underdone since we'll be baking it later) use a glass measuring cup to pull out 3/4 cup of the pasta water.
After you've got the 3/4 cup of cooking water set aside, pour the pasta in a colander and put it to the side until we're ready to mix everything together. :)
Step 3: Saute the Onion and Pepper and Add the Spices
In a large heavy bottomed pot, heat a bit of oil over medium heat. Add in the bell peppers, onions, and a pinch of salt and cook until they're nicely softened. You don't want to brown them, so make sure to stir them frequently.
This will take between 5-10 minutes.
Once that's done, add in the garlic, chili powder and cumin.
Stir this around for a couple minutes until you can smell the spices and the garlic and everything is evenly distributed.
Step 4: Cook the Ground Beef
Now you'll want to add in the ground beef. Break it up into small pieces as it cooks. All we're looking to do here is cook it through until you can't see any pink pieces left. :)
Step 5: Add in the Tomatoes, Sugar and Cooking Water
Open both cans of tomatoes and dump them into the pot. You'll also want to add the tablespoon of brown sugar and the reserved 3/4 cup of cooking water. Stir everything together. Once this starts to bubble, turn the heat down to low.
Now you'll want to simmer this chili with the lid cracked for at least 20 minutes. As always, longer is better, so just do whatever you have time for. Stir it every few minutes.
You'll also need to preheat the oven to 400 F.
Step 6: Season and Assemble Everything in the Baking Dish
Once the chili has simmered for 20 minutes or more, you're ready for final seasoning! Turn off the heat and give it a taste - add more of whatever you need. I added in some chipotle pepper powder and more salt. Just make sure you don't go overboard on the salt, because there will be lots of cheese in it soon!
Pour the elbow macaroni out in the 9x13 baking dish and top with the chili. Stir this together, breaking up any big lumps.
Now we'll add the first round of cheese! Add in 1 1/2 cups of colby jack cheese and stir it around really well.
Once that's done, top with another 1 1/2 cups colby jack. Now we're ready to bake!
Step 7: Baking the Chili Mac
Baking for this is fairly fast - you really just need to melt the cheese and warm everything up. The chili mac might seem a little liquid-y when you first put it in, but I promise the cheese and the pasta starch from the cooking water will firm it up while it bakes.
Pop it into a 400 F oven for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese on top is nice and gooey. :)
Pull the pan out and let it rest on a cooling rack or the top of the stove for ten minutes or so before cutting into it. (just for ease of cutting - otherwise it just falls apart!)
And there you go! Enjoy. It's great with cilantro, jalapenos and hot sauce. :D