I love pimento cheese. Correction: If it’s made right, I love pimento cheese. The ‘right’ way to make it, I believe, is to use EXTRA sharp cheddar cheese, and no other kind. I like it as a dip, I like it on a sandwich, I’ve even used it to top Casseroles, in a unique kind of Sourdough Bread, and one of my favorite ways to eat it is in my savory Pimento Cheesecake appetizer. (Coming soon is a recipe I’m developing for Pimento Cheese Scones. Yum!)
I also make a lot of different versions of mac ‘n’ cheese, there’s the Hawaiian Mac ‘n’ Cheese, the Mac ‘n’ Goat Cheese, I make several different versions with pureed sweet potatoes and/or carrots hidden inside, with finely chopped cauliflower mixed in…I’m always in search of a new, great way to update this lovable classic. And even though each one tastes different, there are several things that I do the same in each version. I always use whole wheat pasta, I never use cream, I always use half olive oil for the roux, I try to use low fat cheese, and I always use reserved pasta liquid and some kind of broth or stock for the cheese sauce. I find that when you have an abundance of cheese and some butter in a casserole, you rarely need the addition of milk or cream. You won’t miss it one bit and it definitely saves a lot of calories…not that any of my mac ‘n’ cheese recipes are low in fat, they’re just perhaps lower in fat than most.
I do feel the need to note that this particular recipe is ‘greasier’ than my other mac ‘n’ cheeses because it contains some mayonnaise and uses all extra sharp cheddar, which is naturally a very oily cheese. There is no substitute for the flavor you get from extra sharp cheddar so I don’t believe this recipe can be made any less caloric than I’ve made it. I love cutting calorie corners, but not when it sacrifices flavor!
So, here’s my newest version that I developed today, a mash-up, if you will, of the Great Pimento Cheese and the Superstar that is Macaroni and Cheese. Hope you enjoy it! I certainly did.
*Mac ‘n’ Pimento Cheese
(serves 6-8 people)
First prepare your Pimento Cheese…
-Grate 10 ounces of Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese into a bowl, (just to give you an idea, this is the size of one rectangle package of the Cracker Barrel cheese. Use white or yellow, your choice)
-Add to that 1/4 cup, or 1 small, 2 oz jar of diced pimentos that you’ve rinsed, drained and patted dry, (diced roasted red peppers are a fine substitute).
-Season with a rounded 1/8 tsp of ground cayenne pepper and kosher salt to taste.
-Mix in about 1/2 cup of mayonnaise (this is a little less than you normally would add if you were just making this for a dip or a spread) and a splash of white vinegar. Stir to fully combine.
-Store in the fridge until you’re ready to make your casserole, (this can be done up to a week ahead of time)
For the Pasta…
-Boil 1 13oz box of whole wheat penne or other short cut pasta in heavily salted water until right before al dente.
–Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water before draining your pasta.
For the Cheese Sauce…
-In the same large pot you used to boil your pasta, add 2 TB of extra virgin olive oil and 2 TB of unsalted butter.
-Melt on medium heat until the butter starts to foam.
-Add 4 TB of all purpose flour and whisk it into the fat until it becomes a paste, then allow it to bubble for about 30 seconds.
-While whisking, slowly add your reserved pasta water until there are no lumps.
-Whisk in about 1 cup of chicken (or vegetable) stock (milk is, of course, welcome here instead of the stock) until you have a slightly thickened liquid, about the consistency of a cream soup, (you can always add more stock to thin it out later, but it’s very hard to make it thicker).
-Add a couple squirts of dijon mustard, several dashes of hot sauce and a good amount of freshly grated nutmeg, season with kosher salt and white pepper to taste.
-Reduce the heat to low and add 5 ounces of grated EXTRA sharp cheddar cheese (you will need 10 oz total) and stir with a spatula until the cheese has melted.
-Add in your prepared Pimento Cheese and stir until everything is melted and well combined.
-Check your seasoning and add more stock if you think it’s too thick, but remember you want it a little loose because your pasta will continue to cook and soak up some liquid in the oven.
For the Assembly…
-Add your cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to combine.
-In a small bowl, beat 1 egg and temper it with a bit of your hot pasta mixture before stirring it into your cheesy pasta mixture, (you do this so you don’t end up scrambling your egg in the hot sauce, that would be weird.)
-Pour into a greased 9*13in glass baking dish and top with 5 more ounces of grated EXTRA sharp cheddar and place in a preheated, 350 degree oven to bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.