I love cheese. It is really that simple. I love it in all forms but I especially cannot resist it when it is melted. There’s something so addicting about the warm gooey goodness that is melted cheese. It’s why I love nachos and pizza, brie en croute and fondue and everything in between. You can dress it up in heels or laze around comfortably with it in sweatpants. Melted cheese is equal opportunity, people.
So when I was flying home from a recent business trip and pulled out one of the many (many = eight) cooking magazines I had brought along for the journey and saw the March issue of bon appétit emblazoned with a bright red crock filled with mac and cheese, I knew I could not resist. As I stared at the longest string of cheese trailing oh-so-drool-inducingly from a noodle pierced by a fork, I had to resist my temptation. It’s not likely that the flight attendant would be able to bring me macaroni and cheese, regardless of how many times I pushed the button and asked. I think that’s a one way ticket to a parachute and a kick out the emergency exit.
But I was intrigued. This wasn’t ordinary macaroni and cheese, although I think I’ve already made my case for why melted cheese of any sort isn’t ordinary. This was pimento mac and cheese. My first thoughts led me to Spain with images of chorizo and smoked pimenton filling my head. There I go drooling again… But as I read the recipe, I realized this was pimento cheese spread, or Southern pate. Traditionally a mix of cheddar, mayonnaise, and red bell pepper, pimento cheese has affixed the cracker of many generations of Southerners.
While I’m sure the original recipe has its merits, my tastes tend toward the briny, bold flavors of the Lee Brothers’ pimento cheese spread. You may remember it from a certain burger I raved about in warmer months… And once it was in my head, there was no turning back. Melted Muenster and Swiss cheeses swimming with al dente pasta, banana peppers, capers, and green onions – oh, my heart be still. I couldn’t cook the pasta fast enough.
southern mac and cheese
1 lb. pasta, cooked according to package directions
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/3 c. flour
6 c. 1% milk
8 oz. Muenster cheese, shredded
8 oz. Swiss cheese, shredded
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ c. roughly chopped banana peppers
¼ c. capers
4 green onions, sliced thinly
½ tsp. crushed red pepper
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 c. panko
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium high heat. Whisk in the flour until well blended. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually whisk in the milk until the sauce is smooth. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, whisking frequently, until sauce has thickened. Reduce heat to medium. Whisk the cheeses into the sauce until smooth.
Add the cooked pasta, kosher salt, banana peppers, capers, green onions and crushed red pepper to the sauce. Stir until well combined. Place into a 13” x 9” baking dish. Combine melted butter and panko in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the top of the pasta. Bake for 30 minutes or until bubbly and top is golden brown.
If you wish, you can portion this and freeze for later consumption. Before adding panko, section pasta into multiple freezer-safe dishes. Refrigerate until cool then freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw in refrigerator, complete step with panko, and bake for about 30 minutes.
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