I have a confession: I like pimento cheese. I still consider pimento cheese a treat. Unfortunately, I know that, even made with natural ingredients, it’s not good for me. Thank goodness for red pepper pesto, which provides all of the great pimento cheese taste with none of the guilt.
For those of you who aren’t Southern, let me begin by explaining the concept of pimento cheese. Pimento cheese is an obscenely orange creation made of grated yellow cheddar, canned pimento peppers, and mayonnaise or even Miracle Whip. When I was growing up, you could find it most often served at ladies’ luncheons where women wore fancy hats and drank sherbet punch, student piano recitals where parents eagerly awaited their child’s labored key plunking, and non-catered wedding receptions, where loving friends of the bride and groom decked out the church fellowship hall or local women’s club with crepe paper bells and garlands and tissue paper roses. The pimento cheese at these events manifest itself spread on white bread that had been cut into shapes like playing card symbols (hearts, diamonds) and seasonal critters and emblems (turkeys, stars) and then made into sandwiches, sans crusts of course. I actually looked forward to events where I could anticipate pimento cheese. When I moved north for school, I craved pimento cheese as a taste of comfort food from home. I finally found it in a small grocery store in a predominantly African-American neighborhood populated with–you guessed it–Southern expatriates.
Red Pepper Pesto
Begin by broiling 3 sweet pimento peppers, turning regularly until the skin starts to separate from the peppers all over. Yes, you can use something other than pimento, but pimentos have a special flavor. I used sheep-nosed pimentos, fresh from the garden. Take the peppers out of the broiler and while still piping hot, put them in a lidded glass container and set them aside for a few minutes. Then slip off the skins, rinsing if you need to get the skins off. Clean up the seeds and membranes inside too.
Now comes the pesto part. Chop the peppers to get the process started. Then using a food processing, mortar and pestle, or hand blender, blend the peppers with a tablespoon or more of good olive oil, until you get a nice paste. Add less than half an ounce of finely grated real parmesan cheese and combine. Add salt to taste. That’s the basic version.
If you’d like a little more kick, add a mashed roasted garlic clove or a tablespoon of toasted pine nuts or herbs.
Are you a fan of pimento cheese? What childhood favorite have you converted to a more sophisticated, adult treat?
Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.