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In Santa Fe, It's the Cheese

November 21, 1996|BEV BENNETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Bennett is the author of four cookbooks, including "Dinner for Two" (Barron's, 1994)

Two ingredients you can count on in New Mexico are chiles and cheese. Few dishes escape the heat of fresh or dried chiles. And cheese--layers upon layers of cheese--is everywhere: over chicken enchiladas, on nachos and on tortillas.

What accounts for all this cheese?

One theory is that fat in the cheese carries the flavor of the chiles, making them more potent. The equally credible but opposing view is that dairy products blunt the heat of the chiles. Or it could just be that cheese and chiles are a delicious combination.

During a recent Santa Fe, vacation I had a marvelous dish of macaroni and cheese prepared in typical local style with plenty of chiles and cheese.

My version of this recipe calls for using canned chopped green chiles, which are more tangy than hot, along with chili powder. I use a packaged blend of Monterey Jack, Cheddar and Mexican cheeses that comes close to what cooks use in Santa Fe.

Stir-fried broccoli with garlic makes a colorful and nutritious side dish that is also easy to prepare.

SOUTHWESTERN MACARONI AND CHEESE

1/2 pound macaroni or penne

Salt

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

1 to 1 1/4 cups milk

1/4 pound shredded sharp Cheddar or mixed cheeses such as Monterey Jack and queso asadero)

1/4 pound canned chopped green chiles, drained

1/4 teaspoon medium-hot chili powder or to taste

Pepper

1/4 cup bread crumbs

Cook macaroni in salted water according to package directions or until tender but not mushy. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt butter in small pan. Add flour and blend. Stir in 1/2 cup milk and cook to a thick paste. Stir in cheese. When cheese is melted and mixture is very thick, gradually stir in additional 1/2 cup milk. Stir in chiles and chili powder. Mixture should be consistency of caramel sauce. If too thick, add remaining 1/4 cup milk. Stir in macaroni and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon mixture into greased 1 1/2-quart casserole. Sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees until crumbs are browned and macaroni and cheese is set, about 30 minutes. Serve hot.

Makes 2 servings.

Each serving contains about:

824 calories; 706 mg sodium; 76 mg cholesterol; 28 grams fat; 108 grams carbohydrates; 35 grams protein; 1.33 grams fiber.

STIR-FRIED BROCCOLI WITH GARLIC

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove garlic, smashed

3 cups broccoli florets

1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce

1/4 cup chicken broth

Freshly ground white pepper

Heat oil in medium skillet. Add garlic and saute 2 minutes over medium heat to scent oil. Discard garlic. Add broccoli and saute until glistening, but still firm, 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in soy sauce and broth and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until broccoli is tender-crisp and most of liquid has evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes. Season to taste with pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Makes 2 servings.

Each serving contains about:

106 calories; 384 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 1.49 grams fiber.

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