There's no better way to mark the passage of time than to announce that this month's Mac of the Month is here! And for July, it's the deliciously (mildly) spicy and crispy pimento mac and cheese. You're going to love this! The pimento adds an awesome twist to the flavor and you can't beat a crispy topping on mac and cheese.
What are pimentos?Jump to Recipe
If you're wondering what pimentos are in the first place, this next section is for you! They're much more popular in the southern United States than they are in other parts of North America. But that being said, it isn't totally uncommon to find it on menus up north. And you can find them in basically any grocery store, usually near the canned olives.
Pimentos are a type of chilli pepper called a "cherry pepper" and they're the most mild of all the chilli peppers. They're even sweeter than bell peppers, and tend to be considered more sweet than spicy. But they're an AWESOME addition to savory foods. That's why you'll find things like pimento grilled cheese, pimento mac and cheese, pimentos in olives, and pimento cheese dip (TO. DIE. FOR!)
If you're a fan of paprika, you'll be interested to learn many places (including the United States and Spain) use pimentos to make paprika.
Tips for making pimento mac and cheese
- This is an important tip for any time you're going to be baking your mac and cheese after you boil the noodles: cook your noodles for one minute less than the package states. Once they're cooked, draine them and run them under cool water. You can also let them sit in the pot with about a tablespoon of butter. Both of these steps give the noodles a chance to cool off and stops them from getting soggy when you bake them.
- Don't add your cheese or cream cheese until after the heat is turned off on your stove top. When you add the cheese when the heat is still on, it can make the cheese stringy. The remaining heat in the roux will be enough to melt the cheese!
- Depending on the size of the dish you bake the pimento mac and cheese in, you can use more or fewer panko crumbs for the topping. Or this can just depend on how dense of a breadcrumb topping you'd like.
- As I do in every mac of the month post, I want to stress how important it is to shred your own cheese for mac and cheese instead of buying pre-shredded cheese. I wrote a lot more about how shredding your own cheese will make better mac and cheese here.
Okay, shall we get to the recipe?
Pimento Mac and Cheese with Panko Topping
For the Noodles
- 3 cups macaroni noodles uncooked
- 1 tablespoon butter
For the Sauce
- ¼ cup flour
- ¼ cup butter
- 4 cups milk/cream I use 1 cup cream and 3 cups milk
- 3 cups old/sharp cheddar cheese shredded
- ¼ cup cream cheese cubed
- 2 tbsp. hot sauce use your favorite, I use buffalo sauce
- 2 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ cup pimentos diced from the jar, no need to rinse off the oil
- ½ tsp salt
For the Panko Topping
- 1 cup panko crumbs
- 1-2 tablespoon butter melted
- ½ cup cheddar shredded
- Preheat oven to 350F.Cook noodles in salted water for one minute less than package directions. Drain, add one tablespoon of butter, mix, and set aside.
- Grate cheese, dice pimentos (if not already diced), cut cream cheese into cubes, and set aside. Begin to melt 4 tablespoon (¼ cup) of butter in a saucepan on medium heat.
- When the butter is melted, add the diced pimentos, garlic powder, mustard powder, paprika, and salt. Cook on medium-high for about 2-3 minutes. Stir regularly.
- Next, whisk the flour into the melted butter mixture. Once the butter and flour are mixed and begin to form a paste, SLOWLY add the milk and cream, then add the hot sauce. Stir constantly, and let the sauce thicken for AT LEAST five minutes. Don't skip this step!
- Once the roux is gently bubbling and has thickened up a little bit, add the cream cheese and cook on low heat for a few minutes until melted. Once the cream cheese has melted, turn off the heat. Now, add shredded cheese and stir gently, allowing the remaining heat in the roux to melt the cheese - this stops it from getting stringy.When the roux and macaroni are done, combine in a greased baking dish and cover. Bake at 350F for about 15 minutes. The mac and cheese will look almost soup-like at this point but it thickens up when it's baked.
- While the mac and cheese is baking, mix 1 cup of panko crumbs with 1 to 2 tbsp. of melted butter and a ½ cup of shredded cheese. Use more panko if you want a denser topping and more butter if you'd like a richer topping.
- Remove the mac and cheese from the oven after 15 minutes. Add the panko mixture and return to oven uncovered for another five minutes, or until the panko topping is slightly golden and toasted.
- Remove from the oven and let sit for at least five minutes before serving. Enjoy!
- This recipe reheats well, BUT, keep in mind the panko topping won't be as crunchy on top once it's been in the fridge then reheated. If you'd like, you can add more bread crumbs each time you serve it to make sure you get that crunch.
- If you're reheating several portions of this, you may want to reheat it in the oven on 350F for about 15-20 minutes to stop it from drying out. If you're reheating in the microwave, you can add a bit of milk and stir it before cooking to help keep it creamy.
- As I mentioned, pimentos aren't very spicy. If you want a spicier dish, you can add more hot sauce, or add a bit of chilli powder to the recipe. You could also use a spicy cheese.
What do you think? Ready to try my pimento mac and cheese? Once you give it a go, please come back here and let me know what you think!
Please don't forget to follow along with me on Instagram either.
Hope you love it!
xo - C