I’ve been thinking about pimento cheese since January, when I saw this post by Camille at Creative Pursuits. So I was really excited when I opened my mailbox and saw the pimento macaroni and cheese on the March cover of Bon Appetit.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I have a complicated relationship with Bon Appetit. I loved Gourmet and was really upset when Conde Nast stopped publishing it. For the first year, none of the recipes in BA really appealed to me, and the few recipes I have tried haven’t turned out quite right. But I had high hopes for this mac & cheese, especially since the recipe was accompanied by a blurb about the joys of pimento cheese from Andrew Knowlton — who is from the South (and, based on his mug shot in the magazine, resembles Patrick Rafter).
Unfortunately, I did have some problems. First, I have no idea what a Peppadew pepper is, and I couldn’t find them at the grocery store. Instead, I got pimentos… and I think that was fine.
What wasn’t fine was the cheese-to-macaroni ratio. I think it may have been partly user error, but I ended up with way too much cheese for the amount of pasta I cooked. So, after we had eaten two bowls full of cheese-and-macaroni, I boiled more pasta and stirred it in.
But, issues aside, we did really enjoy this. I definitely recommend it if you like pimento cheese… of if you’ve never tried pimento cheese. It’s pretty fun.
Pimento mac & cheese (adapted from Bon Appetit)
1 red bell pepper
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup mild Peppadew peppers in brine (or pimentos)
1/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 1/4 cups (packed) coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup (packed) coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese
12 ounces medium shell pasta or gemelli
Remove stem and seeds from red pepper, then cut into 1-inch pieces. Smash the garlic cloves with the side of your knife and cut them in half. Bring 1/2 cup water, bell pepper and 1 1/2 garlic cloves to a boil in a small saucepan. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until pepper pieces are soft, about 15 minutes.
Toast panko breadcrumbs in a skillet over medium heat until golden, stirring often (about 5 minutes). Transfer to bowl and cool to lukewarm. Using your fingers, rub 1 tablespoon butter into the crumbs until blended. Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan.
Transfer bell pepper mixture to a food processor. Add 1 tablespoon brine from Peppadews or pimentos, then drain peppers and add 3/4 cup of the drained peppers to processor. Add 2 tablespoons butter, chile powder and remaining 1/2 garlic clove and pulse. Add cheddar and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan and blend until sauce is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 400 and put a pot of water on the heat to boil. Butter a large baking dish.
When water comes to a boil, salt the water and then cook pasta until tender but still firm. Drain and return pasta to pot. Add sauce and mozzarella and stir.
Pour pasta and cheese mixture into buttered dish and sprinkle crumb mixture on top. Bake about 25 minutes (until topping is crisp and cheese is bubbling). Let stand 10 minutes before serving.