RECIPES:
Apr 12, 2022

Pimento Mac and Cheese

Prep Time: 5 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins
This recipe combines two southern favorites, spreadable pimento cheese and the crowd favorite, mac and cheese, into one delicious dish.

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Pimento cheese, referred to colloquially as “caviar of the south”, is made with pimento peppers, cream cheese, mayonnaise and cheddar, and inspired this version of mac and cheese. While I make this mac and cheese in one pot, it’s also an easy skillet meal that can be prepared in advance and reheated. Add this to your side dish (or entrée) rotation for parties and potlucks. 

While pimento cheese is known for its popularity in the South, it was popularized in the late 1800s in New York when cream cheese was created and canned pimentos were being imported from Spain. Pimento peppers have a mild heat (they’re the most mild of the chilies) and slightly sweet flavor.They are often compared to the more aromatic and sweet bell pepper. While most of the creamy texture comes from the béchamel sauce, milk thickened by a roux (flour cooked in butter), the addition of cream cheese makes it silky smooth. If the sauce looks a bit thin it will thicken as it sits with the noodles. The goal is a creamy sauce. 

Pimento Mac and Cheese Recipe 

ingredients for Pimento Mac and Cheese

Ingredients in Pimento Mac and Cheese 

  • Cheddar – I use sharp Cheddar cheese for this mac and cheese. The term “sharp Cheddar” refers to how the flavor changes as it ages over a period of 6 to 9 months. I prefer cooking with this type because it still melts well and as it heats it retains its flavor. 
  • Pimento peppers – Pimento peppers are small, red, heart shaped peppers that are mild and sweet in flavor. They can typically be found jarred or canned in most grocery stores by the canned beans and vegetables.
  • Cream cheese – Tangy cream cheese adds a smooth and creamy texture to the mac and cheese. Cream cheese helps to keep the mac and cheese from drying out as it sits in the sauce. 
  • Spices – The dish is seasoned with paprika to enhance the pepper flavor and cayenne to add a touch of heat. 
  • Pasta – I go with classic elbow macaroni in this recipe though other small noodles like shells or tubular noodles like penne or cavatappi are great too. 

How to Make Pimento Mac and Cheese

cooked pasta for Pimento Mac and Cheese
Step 1: Cook the pasta 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium high heat. Cook the pasta until just al dente, drain and set aside.

sweat shallots for Pimento Mac and Cheese
Step 2: Sweat the shallots 

Return the pot to medium heat, add the butter and allow to melt. Add the shallots and sweat them until the shallots are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

peppers and spices for Pimento Mac and Cheese
Step 3: Add peppers and spices 

Stir in the pimento peppers, paprika and cayenne until combined.

bechamel sauce
Step 4: Make a béchamel sauce  

Add the flour, continuing to stir until pale brown, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

mixing cream and cheese
Step 5: Add the cream cheese and cheese 

Add the cream cheese, stirring until it’s fully incorporated. Slowly add the Cheddar cheese about ½ cup at a time, whisking until everything has combined.

mixing pasta, cream, and cheese
Step 6: Add the pasta to the sauce 

Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to combine.

Step 7: Garnish and serve 

Top with green onions and ladle into serving bowls.

Pimento Mac and Cheese Variations 

Bacon Pimento Mac And Cheese 

Adding chopped, cooked bacon adds a great smokey flavor to this recipe. 

Baked Pimento Mac And Cheese

To bake the mac and cheese, preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Spread the mixture in the baking dish or cast iron pan. Add extra cheese or buttered breadcrumbs on top of the mac and cheese and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbling, about 25 to 30 minutes. Use this method if making the mac and cheese in advance and reheating. 

Smoked Pimento Mac And Cheese

Swap the paprika for smoked paprika for a subtle smoky flavor. 

Other Recipes to Try 

If you enjoy this mac and cheese recipe, I recommend checking out these:

Pimento Mac And Cheese

Print Pin
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 medium shallots, diced
  • 1 (4-ounce) jar pimento peppers, drained and diced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • Kosher salt, as needed
  • Freshly ground black pepper, as needed
  • 2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, cut into ½” pieces
  • 2 medium green onions, thinly sliced

Instructions:

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium high heat. Cook the pasta until just al dente, drain and set aside.
  • Return the pot to medium heat, add the butter and allow to melt. Add the shallots and sweat them until the shallots are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the pimento peppers, paprika and cayenne until combined.
  • Add the flour, continuing to stir until pale brown, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Add the cream cheese, stirring until it’s fully incorporated. Slowly add the Cheddar cheese about ½ cup at a time, whisking until everything has combined.
  • Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to combine.
  • Top with green onions and ladle into serving bowls.

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