Pimento cheese mac and cheese – two things I love smashed together.
I’m not big on most casseroles, but mac and cheese has been and will forever be one of my favorite foods. Growing up, my mom would mix peas and pepperoni into her homemade mac and cheese to make it a one-dish dinner. My love of mac and cheese grew to a new level in college when I tried the grown-up mac and cheese at a local cafe with a little bit of black pepper and the perfect orecchiette noodles that cradled all of the cheese sauce (that’s the best part, right?). It grew again when I tried the famous, super rich, almost custard-like mac and cheese at Poole’s Diner after a long day of walking around a bluegrass festival. Needless to say, if there is mac and cheese on the menu, I’ll probably order it.
My other go-to cheesy Southern staple, especially this time of year, is pimento cheese. Pimento cheese reminds me of tea parties, the Kentucky Derby, and a good southern spring appetizer board. I don’t know if I associate it with spring because that’s when the Kentucky Derby is held, because it is when we would start to have picnic tea parties growing up, or just because spring is when people start getting together more for outdoor soirees and parties, but in my mind, pimento cheese is a springy food. (Don’t be fooled, I still make it year round, I just think of it as a seasonal spread in the spring.)
I make my pimento cheese with roasted red peppers and smoked gouda, which both give great, unique flavors to the cheese mixture. These are the secret ingredients to making a stellar pimento cheese that people will remember.
Mixing the nostalgic, creamy mac and cheese with delicious, slightly smoky pimento cheese creates the best comfort food combination. I’m taking every chance I get to make this amazing mash up. It would be so perfect scooped out into small individual servings for parties and showers, or served straight out of the pan for Easter weekend or spring potlucks. Maybe even just because it is a Wednesday night? I’ll take it.
Pimento Mac and Cheese
1 12oz jar roasted red peppers, chopped
8 ounces orecchiette noodles
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
6 ounces smoked Gouda cheese, grated
4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 tablespoon honey
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
¼ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease an 8×8 inch baking dish.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the directions, reducing the cook time by 1 minute. Drain and set aside.
In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour, whisking until combined to create a thick roux. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes more until the roux is golden and fragrant. Slowly pour in half the milk, whisking constantly so it can thicken again, about 5 minutes. Slowly pour in the other half of the milk and whisk until thickened. Add the honey and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and add the gouda, cheddar and all but 2 tablespoons of the parmesan. Stir until the cheese melts. Stir in the crushed red pepper, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cooked pasta and the red peppers.
Bake about 20-30 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling up around the edges. Rotate the pan and continue to bake until golden brown on top, about 10 to 15 more minutes. Let the mac and cheese sit for about 10 minutes before serving warm.