Macaroni and pimento cheese!
Macaroni and cheese is comfort food for me, and I imagine it is for almost everyone. Almost as comforting, at least in this part of the world, is pimento cheese. So riddle me this: How come the idea of mac and pimento
cheese occurred to me only last night?
It was easy enough: I made a batch of an old favorite, "Upgraded macaroni and cheese," which I published in my old WineAdvisor FoodLetter back in 2002. I used Cabot White Cheddar plus a bit of mild goat cheese for tang, and stirred in half of a jar of pimentos to give it that extra something.
The result was splendid, although I think next time I might use yellow Cheddar and perhaps make a roux-based Mornay sauce rather than the egg-and-milk combination in this version. A little more creamy and bright warm yellow cheese might amplify the pimento-cheese connection even more.
Here's the modified version of my old recipe:
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
6 to 8 ounces cheese of your choice (see Step 2)
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard or 1 teaspoon Dijon
Cayenne, dried red-pepper flakes or hot sauce
1/2 small jar pimentos, drained
4 ounces elbow macaroni or short pasta
1 tablespoon butter
1. Preheat your oven to 350F and put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta; lightly grease a casserole or baking dish large enough to hold the macaroni, rub its inner surface with smashed garlic cloves.
2. Let your imagination go as you choose a cheese or variety of cheeses that suits your taste. I use Cheddar or similar sharp yellow cheese as a starting point and usually have it as about three-fourths of the blend. Swiss-type cheeses such as Gruyere or Emmenthaler add a pleasant high note, and a bit of blue cheese or goat cheese contributes earthiness and complexity. Grate the cheeses.
3. Break the egg into a bowl, whip with a fork, and stir in 1/2 cup of the milk, reserving about 1/4 cup for later. Add the mustard and salt, freshly grated pepper and cayenne or hot sauce to taste.
4. Using elbow macaroni for a traditional mac'n'chee, or your choice of short pasta such as penne or conchiglie, put the pasta in the boiling salted water and cook until it's nearly al dente but still firm, remembering that it will cook further in the dish. Elbow macaroni should be al dente in 6 minutes or so.
5. Drain the pasta and put it back into the pot along with the butter. Toss until the butter melts and coats the pasta. Over medium-low heat, stir in the milk, egg and spice mixture. Then add two-thirds of the cheese. (Be sure to save about one-third of the cheese for later.) Stir until the cheese has melted and the contents of the pot are bubbly. then add the remaining milk and about half of the remaining cheese, stirring until this cheese melts.
6. Turn the contents into the greased and garlicky casserole, and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes, or until it's bubbling throughout and crusty-brown on top, and serve with a salad or green veggie. And wine, of course. It was great with an affordable Incanto 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva from Trader Joe's.