Classic mac and cheese benefits from mustard, chipotle powder, Tabasco

Dry Creek Vineyard 2006 Heritage Sonoma County Zinfandel ($17), our Wine of the Week, is a beauty.

First there's the oh-so-appealing price. To find a wine this pretty for under $20 is a reason to celebrate, which the wine helps you do from the first sip to the last.

Flavors of blackberries dance lightly on the palate, ever-present but not aggressive. There's a softness and depth to the wine as well, with suggestions of blackberry jam, white pepper, dark plum and licorice root beautifully integrated into a pleasing whole.

But it is the tannins that I find most interesting. The tannins are silky, with a gorgeous clarity and crispness that linger on the long finish, a quality that expands the range of foods you can enjoy with this wine.

Certainly, it will work well with pasta with red sauces, pizza, most meats and all manner of barbecue, a classic pairing with zinfandel. But this particular zinfandel can take a bit more heat than those with rougher tannins.

For today's recipe, I'm revisiting an old favorite, originally published in "California Home Cooking" (Harvard Common Press, 1997). I've added another layer of heat with some feisty chipotle powder -- made locally by Tierra Vegetables and Crescent Moon Farm -- and deepened the match with freshly ground white pepper.

So often macaroni and cheese is served to pacify pampered kids, but this is an adult version, perfect as a main course on a cold night. To dress it up a bit, add mushrooms -- trumpet royale, for example -- sauteed in brown butter alongside.

Macaroni and Cheese for Grown-ups

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 cup fresh bread crumbs (recipe follows)

4 ounces bacon

2 teaspoons dry mustard, such as Colman's

? to 1 teaspoon chipotle powder

2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

2 cups whole milk, preferably organic

1 cup heavy cream, preferably organic

3 large eggs, beaten

-- Kosher salt

-- Black pepper in a mill

-- White pepper in a mill, optional

1 pound cheddar cheese, grated

1 pound Italian Fontina or Caciacavallo, grated

1 pound dried ditalini or elbow macaroni

Make the bread crumbs and set them aside.

Fry the bacon in a heavy skillet set over medium heat until it is just barely crisp. Transfer to absorbent paper.

In a small bowl, mix together the dry mustard, chipotle powder and hot sauce, using more or less of the chipotle powder depending on your preference for heat. Add a little water -- a teaspoon or two -- to make a paste.

In a large bowl, combine the milk, cream and eggs. Season with salt and several generous turns of black pepper and white pepper, if using, stir in the mustard paste and fold in all the cheddar cheese and half of the other cheese. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until it is al dente. Drain it, rinse it under cool running water and drain thoroughly, shaking off as much water as possible.

Fold the pasta into the cheese and milk mixture. Crumble the bacon and fold it into the mixture, along with the remaining cheese.

Put the macaroni and cheese into a 4-quart baking dish and spread the bread crumbs over the top. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes; remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes more, until the mixture is hot and bubbly and the bread crumbs lightly browned.

Remove from the oven and let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Note: For fresh bread crumbs, cut several slices from a 1- or 2-day-old loaf of hearth bread and tear the slices into chunks. Put about 1 cup of bread into a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse until the chunks are reduced to crumbs. Continue until you have as many bread crumbs as you need. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a week or so.

Michele Anna Jordan can be contacted via e-mail at

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