Pimento Mac and Cheese baked in mini-muffin cups makes a...

Pimento Mac and Cheese baked in mini-muffin cups makes a great snack or appetizer. (March 2023) Credit: Marge Perry

I am just back from a long weekend in Nashville, where I listened to great music and ate pimento mac-and-cheese at nearly every lunch and dinner. (Breakfast was for grits and biscuits.)

As a longtime devotee of classic mac-and-cheese, I wasn’t sure I would like it “sullied” by the addition of pimento. I was wrong. The pimentos add a small burst of briny flavor — but that isn’t all that is different. Cream cheese and mayonnaise (both of which can be full- or lower-fat) give it mellow creaminess, while paprika and onion powder, which I don’t normally include in mac and cheese, lend a more savory note.

You can make this as a standard mac-and-cheese casserole — just omit the egg and bake it in a casserole dish, perhaps with a buttery breadcrumb topping. We are crazy for these little pimento mac-and-cheese bites, though. They make a great party appetizer (perfect for brunch, and especially well-suited for Easter!), and are terrific to keep around for a convenient snack. The recipe may be halved, and the bites keep well for 3 days in the refrigerator.

Pimento Mac and Cheese Bites

8 ounces elbow pasta

1 1/4 cups milk

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

8 ounces sharp yellow Cheddar cheese, grated

3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

4-ounce jar sliced pimentos, drained and chopped

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Coat the inside of 36 mini-muffin cups with cooking spray.

2. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until it is just cooked through, about 6-7 minutes; drain.

3. Combine the milk and flour in a medium saucepan (off the heat) and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Place over medium heat, and cook, stirring frequently to prevent the flour from clumping, until the mixture is slightly thicker than heavy cream, about 8-9 minutes. Remove from the heat; add the Cheddar, cream cheese, pimentos, mayonnaise, paprika and onion powder; stir until smooth.

4. Combine the pasta with the egg, stirring to be sure the egg lightly coats all the pasta. Add the cheese sauce and stir thoroughly. Divide the pasta mixture among the 36 muffin cups and bake until the edges are lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan 10 minutes before serving.

MAKES 36

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