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Spontaneous Digestion

April 7, 2011

We have made reference several times here to “accidental successes” in the kitchen; those times when you throw a few things together, hope it turns out well, and it does.  Last night was one of those occasions. But to call last night’s dish a mere success would be like saying Bill Gates makes a decent living.  Honestly, we were beyond amazed at how well this dish turned out, and it’s our pleasure to bore you with the story as to how it came about.  It was pasta night, and I was trying to figure out how to jazz it up a bit.  I had made our awesome sausage sandwiches earlier in the week, so I had a lot of pimento (or pimiento, both are acceptable) cheese left over, and the crazy thought of somehow combining pasta with the cheese entered my brain.  Pimento cheese has a consistency similar to cream cheese, though not quite as dense, so I figured in order to use it on pasta I’d have to thin it out. I happened to have some half and half in the fridge, so while the pasta was cooking I heated the cheese and half and half in a saucepan.  But now it was getting too thin, so I thickened it back up a little with some shredded cheddar and Jack. Now it had the right consistency, but the taste was a bit off. The pimento cheese is somewhat sweet (they also make a spicy version), so I wanted to add some saltiness and spice to it. I chopped up some cooked ham and added it to the pot, along with some paprika and crushed red pepper. The sauce tasted great, and I decided to bake it with the pasta (as opposed to just tossing the noodles with the sauce).  I quickly mixed some breadcrumbs with parmesan cheese, poured the cooked pasta into a baking pan, tossed it with the cheese sauce, topped it with the breadcrumb mixture, and baked it for 15 minutes.  I still had no idea how this would all come together, but as we discovered, I had inadvertently created one of the best mac-n-cheese dishes we’ve ever had. After dinner I looked online to see if there was an abundance of pimento mac-n-cheese recipes out there, and I did find a few, but none of them used pre-made pimento cheese. I don’t know if those recipes would be better than this one, but I’ll put this one up against them confidently in a taste test any day.  The sweetness of the cheese, the saltiness of the ham, the smoky paprika, the spice of the red pepper, and the crunch of the breadcrumbs all combine for a seriously delicious dish. Enjoy!

The MHK’s Pimento Mac-N-Cheese

(serves 4)

1 lb. pasta (macaroni, penne rigate, shells)

2 cups half and half

1 cup pimento cheese

½ cup shredded cheddar and Jack cheese

¼ cup chopped cooked ham

1 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

½ cup breadcrumbs

½ cup grated parmesan

Cook pasta according to directions. Heat oven on 350. While water boils and pasta cooks, make sauce. Heat a small saucepan over med-low heat. Add half and half and pimento cheese. Whisk, breaking up cheese clumps until smooth.  Add cheddar/Jack slowly, whisking until blended smooth (if too thick, add a little more half and half). Add ham, paprika and red pepper. Stir until combined. Drain pasta, place in 9×13 baking pan. Pour cheese sauce on pasta; stir until very well combined. Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over the top. Bake for 15 minutes. Serve and eat!

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