I’m a devoted follower of the Wandering Goose—one of the only places in town to get an honest-to-goodness slice of layer cake that doesn’t disappoint. I love the biscuits. I love the hand pies. And I particularly love chef/owner Heather Earnhardt’s Southern sides, like pimento mac ‘n’ cheese.
This month, Earnhardt released a cookbook: Big Food Big Love, a beautiful tome dedicated to her interpretation on Southern comfort food. If you’re a frequenter of the Wandering Goose, you’ll notice many familiar dishes. And since biscuits don’t alone make a terribly satisfying dinner, the first recipe I tried was for her pimento “Not Your Mama’s” mac ‘n’ cheese. Well, my mom’s mac regularly came from a blue box—love you, Mom!—and I grew up on a different coast than Earnhardt, but I still really, really love this homey dish. (Pay no attention to the calorie count. That’s not what this is about.)
Pimento “Not Your Mama’s” Mac & Cheese (pg. 134)
1 pound elbow macaroni
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
½ cup half-and-half
1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated (reserve 2 cups for topping)
4 ounces smoked Monterey Jack cheese, grated
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
4 ounces cream cheese, diced
1 tablespoon Texas Pete or Crystal hot sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon kosher salt (I’d actually go with a little less, and adjust after the sauce is made)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimentos, drained
* Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
* Cook the macaroni in a pot of boiling water with a tablespoon of salt, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain the macaroni and set aside.
* In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. When it starts to bubble, add the flour and cook, whisking continuously, until the flour is fragrant and lightly golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the milk and half-and-half in a steady stream. Let the mixture come to a simmer, and cook, whisking frequently, until the sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes. Whisk in the cheddar (except the 2 reserved cups), Monterey Jack, Gruyere, and cream cheese until completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat and whisk in the hot sauce, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne. Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper as needed. Stir in pimentos.
* Add the macaroni to the sauce and mix thoroughly. Top with the reserved cheddar. Bake the mac and cheese on the middle rack in the oven until the sauce starts to bubble, 25 to 35 minutes. Turn the oven to broil and brown the top for 4 to 5 minutes, being careful not to burn the cheese. Serve immediately.