Note: If you prefer a non-spicy version of this mac and cheese, you could sub in regular roasted red peppers (jarred or homemade). In that case, I would probably at least double the amount of peppers.
12 ounces whole wheat macaroni
2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/3 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup minced Hot and Sweet Cherry Peppers (or minced peppers of your choice)
1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1. Put on a big pot of water to boil. When the water boils, add some salt along with the dried pasta, and cook until the pasta is almost tender -- a minute or so less than the package recommends. Drain, rinse in cold water, and keep ready until the cheese sauce is done. (You can cook the pasta while you prepare the sauce to save time!)
2. In a medium pot (or the microwave), heat the milk over medium heat until it just starts to bubble - not a full boil. Remove from the heat.
3. Meanwhile, heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter in the skillet, and then add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
4. Slowly whisk in the hot milk - it's okay if the mixture seems thick and lumpy at first...it will all smooth out as you go. Make sure to use a silicone-coated whisk to protect your pan!
5. Put the skillet back over medium high heat, continuing to whisk constantly. The sauce is ready when it's silky, thick, and coats a spoon -- mine was ready almost immediately, but it might take up to 2-3 minutes. Whisk in the salt.
6. Add the Cheddar and cream cheese to the sauce, whisking to combine. Cook until the cheese is barely melted, about 3 minutes, whisking often. Stir in the cherry peppers.
7. Remove the skillet from the heat and gently fold in the cooked macaroni.
8. Pre-heat the broiler for a few minutes. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with oil, and then scoop the macaroni and cheese into the dish. Sprinkle with panko, and then drizzle with olive oil.
9. Pass under the broiler for a minute or two -- keep a close eye to avoid burning. You want the panko to get nicely golden brown. Let sit for a minute or two before serving.