Friday, March 8, 2013

Lemon Zest + Thyme Pimento Cheese Stuffed Pickled Peppers

I thought that everyone ate pimento cheese sandwiches growing up. I had no idea until recently that it's a Southern thing. The largest producer of pimentos is actually in Tennessee. I'll just add this to the growing list of reasons I love living in the South: heart, soul, and pimiento cheese.

All of you who live down here know that you can't go into any restaurant, be it humble or fancy-pants, without seeing some version of pimento cheese on the menu. The crazy thing is you could order the pimento cheese from every establishment and get something a little different every time. Each kitchen has their own blend of cheeses and spices that makes it their signature pimento cheese. The truth is, though, it's one of those things you almost can't screw up because the ingredients are just too good.

My version is spiced with plenty of fresh thyme, lemon zest, and shallots. I tend to use a combination of sharp cheddar cheese and soft goat cheese to give my pimento cheese a tangy, up-front flavor. Here I've stuffed the mixture into tiny marinated sweet peppers that I found on the olive bar at Whole Foods. This mixture also makes a wonderful sandwich, but these tiny stuffed peppers are the perfect thing to have with a glass of wine in the early evening hours just as the Southern sun dips below the horizon.

Lemon Zest + Thyme Pimento Cheese:

1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)
4 ounces soft goat cheese
4-6 sprigs fresh thyme (stems removed)
zest from one lemon
1/4 cup mayo (I use vegan mayo or olive oil mayo)
1 medium red bell pepper (peeled, finely diced)
splash of champagne vinegar
1 small shallot*
plenty of black pepper
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients until incorporated. It's as simple as that. To make stuffed peppers, roll about a teaspoon of the mixture into a ball and pop it into the cavity of the pepper. Garnish with sweet paprika and fresh baby dill.

*Mince the shallot then place it into a mesh strainer. You will only need about a tablespoon. Run the minced shallot under cold water for a few seconds. This will take away any raw onion flavor and keep the shallot from overpowering the dish.