I know it’s May, but I’m about to talk about Christmas so brace your elves…
I have always loved that white, crinkly-edged brick of cream cheese topped with the soupy goop of pepper jelly that you find on every Christmas cocktail party table. It’s delicious, no one can deny that. But a couple of years ago when I was throwing a lot of Christmas cocktail parties of my own, I set out to make that combination of flavors a bit more interesting. I came up with the idea of making a tiny, savory Roasted Red Pepper Cheesecake with a Homemade Pepper Jelly Glaze that guests would eat with toast points or pita chips. And it seemed to be a big hit.
But today I was looking for a way to change that up a bit. For whatever reason, I’ve had pimento cheese on my mind lately and for whatever other reason, pimento cheese and warm weather go hand in hand in my mind. I think it’s because my mom made a lot of it at the beach on summer vacations when I was a kid and we’d eat it with celery slices on the porch. My husband never grew up with the stuff and entered my family as a bit of a picky eater. So when he spent the first 4th of July with us at Wrightsville Beach, my mom put out Pimento Cheese and Celery Sticks and we noticed that he wasn’t touching it. We asked him why he wasn’t eating it and he said that the idea of cheddar cheese and fish just didn’t sound that good to him. He thought pimentos were fish. Since then, he’s gotten over his fears of fish and cheese and he loves it.
Now my favorite way to eat Pimento Cheese is with baked pita chips. That’s an idea I got from my friend, Betsy. The first time I had her Pimento Cheese, it was the first time it didn’t make me regret taking a bite. (Nothing other than Extra Sharp Cheddar works for this, people!! And Velveeta? Come on!!) Needless to say, she served hers with baked pita chips.
My parents came over for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres tonight and I was in the mood for something fun and new so, with the thoughts of Christmas, Betsy and Fourth of July running through my head, here’s what I came up with… (if you’re serving this at a Christmas party, I would use Extra Sharp WHITE Cheddar to make it more festive.)
*Recipe for Pimento Cheesecake-
-In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, beat 2 eggs with a good pinch of salt, 1 TB of cornstarch, and a good splash of white vinegar. Add to that 1 brick of softened cream cheese and beat again until smooth.
-Add in 1-1 1/2 cups of grated EXTRA sharp cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup of diced pimentos or roasted red peppers and 1/8 tsp of cayenne pepper + an extra pinch. Stir with a spatula to incorporate and pour into a well-greased, small tart shell or round ramekin (mine is 6 inches wide and 1 1/2 inches deep).
-Bake at 350* for 35 minutes, until set in the middle.
-Serve at room temperature with pita chips or toast points.
Food + Wine