4 cups pasta shapes (I like cavatappi)
1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup roasted red pepper (jarred or home roasted), finely chopped
1-2 jalapeno 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
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 tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, red pepper and jalapeno to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until fragrant and tender, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons 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.
Preheat the oven to 375° 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.
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.
Full Disclosure: I received compensation from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board for my groceries and the time spent on this project.