The Astronomer and I traveled to Birmingham, Alabama this past weekend to celebrate Grandpa Herschel Bryant’s 100th birthday! On Saturday afternoon, The Astronomer’s mom and dad hosted a luncheon at their home where guests were treated to Honeybaked ham sandwiches served on silver dollar-sized rolls, fresh fruit salad, and spinach Pauline.
An Instagram-able moment between The Astronomer and The Centenarian
To nibble on before the main courses was a tall stack of saltines accompanied by a heaping bowl of pimiento cheese. A chunky marriage of sharp cheddar, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and roasted red peppers, pimiento cheese is a Southern classic that’s traditionally eaten smothered between two slices of white bread, dipped with vegetable crudites, or dolloped generously atop crackers. Our salty, crisp vehicles proved to be an excellent match for the hefty spread this afternoon.
This recipe, which The Astronomer’s mother entrusted me to prepare in advance for the party, comes from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill. Chef Stitt attributes the recipe to Miss Verba, an associate of his at Highlands Bar and Grill, who as far as he is concerned makes the best pimiento cheese ever. The Astronomer’s mother wholeheartedly agrees.
Aside from the chore of roasting the bell peppers and grating the cheese, this pimiento cheese comes together quite effortlessly. Whether served as a dip or a spread, the pimiento cheese hits all the right notes that a good appetizer ought to—creamy, sweet, spicy, and salty. With outdoor entertaining season around the corner, I’m looking forward to sharing this seriously tasty starter at potlucks, picnics, and beach parties. A Southern staple in Southern California—why the heck not.
- 1 pound sharp yellow cheddar, grated
- 1/4 pound cream cheese, softened
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 3 large red bell peppers
- 1/2 cup homemade mayonnaise or best-quality commercial mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Splash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Cholula
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Begin by roasting the bell peppers. Simply place them on a grill over a hot fire or under a hot broiler and turn them occasionally until the skin is black and charred all over. Note: I used my grandma’s tried and true stove-top roasting method. It’s more effective than barbecuing or broiling in my experience.
Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let steam for 10 minutes. Remove the blackened skin with your finger tips, then remove the stem and seeds. It’s fine if a bit of skin remains—don’t be tempted to rinse the peppers, or you will wash away their flavorful oils.
Finely chop the peppers by hand or by pulsing in a food processor.
Transfer the grated cheese to a bowl, add the cream cheese, white pepper, bell peppers, mayonnaise, sugar, hot sauce, and cayenne, if using, and blend all together thoroughly.
Refrigerate and serve chilled with saltine crackers and/or crudites. The spread will keep for several days in the refrigerator, but it usually disappears long before then.
Makes approximately 3 cups.
Recipe adapted from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill.
More recipes for sensational starters on Gastronomy:
- Anne Burrell’s Crostini of Chicken Liver Pâté with Balsamic Onions
- Bánh Mì Tôm Chiên – Shrimp Toasts
- Bò Bía – Vietnamese Jicama, Carrot, Chinese Sausage, Egg, and Dried Shrimp Rolls
- Chả Giò – Vietnamese Egg Rolls
- Furikake Kettle Corn
- Gỏi Cuốn – Vietnamese Pork and Shrimp Rolls with Hoisin Dipping Sauce
- Inari Sushi
- Kaya Toast
- Mom’s Lollipop Fried Chicken
- Oven-Baked Cinnamon Pumpkin Dumplings
- Pizzeria Mozza’s Chicken Liver Pâté
- Sweet Onion and Anchovy Pastries