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Pimento Shells and Cheese

March 20, 2013

PimentoMac

 

I’m not sure exactly where I got the idea for combining two of my favorite cheese dishes – pimento cheese and mac and cheese – but it’s been simmering in my brain for a while now. I think it started with a pimento risotto I had at Poogan’s Porch in Charleston last year that was todiefor. Regardless, this pimento macaroni and cheese dish made its debut at Valentine’s dinner, and husband said it might have been his favorite homemade macaroni and cheese yet (I have nothing on The Porch here in Dallas unfortunately). This version is richer than I normally make, using whole milk and half & half instead of 2% (at least it’s not cream!) and lots and lots of cheese. With some extra cheese stirred in at the end. But it was so divine, I didn’t care about the calories one bit.

 

Pimento Shells and Cheese, serves 8
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cups whole milk

2 cups half & half

1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese (I found a jack with roasted red peppers, at Target actually, but I’m sure there might be others at a cheese shop -it was perfect for this).

1/2 cup grated Cantal or Comte cheese

1  cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese plus 2/3 cup more reserved

2 tablespoons chopped pimentos (or more if you prefer!)

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound shells or gemelli pasta

Melt butter in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, and let the roux cook for 2-3 minutes, don’t let it darken. Pour in the milk and half & half a cup or so at a time, whisking constantly to eliminate any lumps from the flour. Let simmer for about 10 minutes, until sauce is thickened and will coat the back of a spoon.
Meanwhile, boil pasta according to package directions.

Mix in the cheeses about a 1/2 cup at a time, again whisking continuously to create a smooth sauce. Add the pimentos, salt and pepper, and then season to taste. Sometimes I find the cheese sauce needs extra salt, it all depends on how salty your cheeses were. If you want it extra rich, add in a little more grated cheese.

When the pasta is cooked, reserve a half cup or so of pasta water, then drain. Mix the cooked pasta into the sauce. If it’s too thick, add a little reserved pasta water. Stir in the reserved 2/3 cup grated cheddar and serve immediately.

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