Every Super Bowl party, every Thanksgiving appetizer hour and several other times throughout the year—you’ll find this quick and simple spread on our table. Though he doesn’t know the exact origin of his pimiento cheese recipe, my husband, Les, recalls that it was shared with him by a colleague at one of his former jobs. And that’s the nature of recipes, isn’t it? We enjoy a food that someone else prepared and we ask for the recipe. Maybe it’s their original recipe or maybe they got it from a cousin or a neighbor or their church potluck cookbook or the back of a soup can. When the recipe tickles your fancy, it doesn’t matter where it came from—just enjoy the fact that someone is willing to share it.
Les has graciously shared this one with me, to be shared with you. I was busy watching and jotting down the amounts of each ingredient he used, so I missed getting pictures along the way. But would you really need them for a recipe this simple? Let’s just go straight to the money shot.
Unlike so many southern-style pimiento cheese recipes, this one is easy on the mayonnaise and lets the cheese take center stage. Nothing turns me off, food-wise, more than too much mayonnaise. The addition of diced tomatoes provides a nice touch of acidity to balance the richness of the cheese, and the tiniest splash of an unexpected ingredient adds a savory undertone. This spread is sturdy enough that a delicate cracker will break when you dip it. You need a hefty cracker or crostini, or do as we do and use a serving knife to spread it on your preferred snack canvas.
We enjoyed some of this recently when we had a small, physically distanced gathering with another couple. It was a fabulous backyard happy hour, long-overdue, and complete with snacks and David’s awesome martinis.
Go on, open a box of crackers, and make it a big one—in case you decide to devour the whole batch in one sitting. Nobody would blame you.
2/3 cup mayonnaise (we use an all-canola oil brand)
1/2 can Rotel tomatoes, very well drained*
2 oz. jar of diced pimientos, drained of excess moisture
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce (surprise!)
2 blocks (8 oz. each) cheddar cheese, freshly shredded*
Freshly cracked black pepper
Les uses the “hot” version of Rotel, which has habanero pepper but honestly isn’t really that hot. If spicy isn’t your thing, use the original.
Try using a couple different types of cheese, to keep it interesting. This time around, Les used sharp yellow cheddar and extra sharp white cheddar. But if you want to get creative and use smoked cheddar, or mix it up with gouda or another favorite firm cheese—we would both say, “go for it!”
For sure, do not use the pre-shredded cheese in a bag. They coat that stuff with a substance that keeps it from sticking together in the bag, and it adds a weird texture to finished recipes. In our opinion, all cheese is best when you buy it whole and grate it yourself.
Stir together the mayonnaise, tomatoes, pimientos and Worcestershire sauce in a large mixing bowl, and season to your liking with black pepper. You won’t need to add salt because the cheese has enough. Add the shredded cheddar cheese and mix until evenly combined. I will note that Les and I differ on how to put together certain types of dishes, this being one of them. He grates the cheese first and then blends in each ingredient after that; my thought is that mixing the wet ingredients first and then blending in the dry makes life far easier. (Coincidentally, our methods differ in the same way for cookies. But that’s another post.) You can serve the spread immediately, but the flavor is best after a few hours in the refrigerator.
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Pimiento cheese is practically its own food group in the South. If you have never heard of it (or maybe even pimientos themselves), here’s some background info to bring you up to speed:
What are pimientos?
Also sometimes spelled “pimento,” these are smallish round sweet peppers, about the size of a golf ball, and they are commonly referred to as “cherry peppers” because they have a similar shape. When jarred, the peppers are usually diced quite small. Most likely, you’ve seen pimientos before, stuffed into the inside of pitted green olives. Of course, now I’m craving a martini.
Are pimientos spicy?
Most people would agree that pimientos are not spicy, but sweet in flavor. For reference, they land somewhere about 200 on the Scoville scale, which measures the capsaicin, or heat value, of peppers. To compare, jalapenos are somewhere around 3,000. Having said that, if you decide to grow some pimientos, give them some distance from spicier peppers in your garden, as they have a tendency to take on more heat once they have cross-pollinated.
What else can you do with pimientos?
You can use pimientos the same way you’d use any other sweet pepper—in salads, soups, spreads or omelets. They are nearly bite-sized, so you might also remove the stem and clean out the seeds, then stuff them with herbed cream cheese or tuna salad. If you just have way too much time your hands, I suppose you could buy a bushel, dehydrate them and grind them into a powder. Voilà—homemade paprika.
How can I dress up pimiento cheese?
Adjust the flavor profile by blending in different kinds of cheese—smoked gouda, asiago or bleu cheese would each lend an interesting twist to pimiento cheese. Or add small amounts of other ingredients, such as pickled jalapenos, pickles or even cooked crumbled bacon for variety.
How can I use leftover pimiento cheese?
I’m sorry—I don’t think I understand this question, because we never have leftovers! 🙂 But sometimes, Les makes a double batch so we have enough to use for other things, such as topping a burger, melting over a toasted bagel, slathering inside omelets or elevating our happy in a macaroni and cheese. Go on, make some!
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