It’s late fall, when the end of the growing season often brings some nice surprises, especially after a disappointing summer of rain and sorry produce. One discovery a few weeks ago was these beautiful red poblanos, brilliant and shiny. Poblanos are already a favorite of mine, in frequent use around my house for a staple in my house, chiles rellenos (recipe to come, I promise), or for making one of my favorite burgers or this simple first course of cornmeal-dusted sautéed peppers.
The red poblano is both a little sweeter and a little hotter than the green, which among all the chiles is relatively mild. It retains a distinctive poblano taste, however, and was satisfying and very pretty for chiles rellenos. Once roasted, however, they looked so much like any other roasted red pepper that I began thinking about what else to do with them.
As many of you know, I spend the academic year in Nashville. The South is a generation behind; this is not a criticism, just a fact. What is available here, and what people like, is reminiscent of the East Coast in the early 1960s. One of those things that people like is pimiento cheese. Now, we didn’t have that growing up, but we did have various kinds of cheese spreads, like WisPride®. Pimento cheese is a little bit like that, and everybody here just loves it. They sell it in the supermarkets—which are, regrettably, like ours were 30 years ago—in big tubs. Of course you don’t want that. But a homemade pimento cheese can be a very nice, even addictive, thing.
When friends from Rhode Island were visiting last month, I made some pimento cheese and some roasted pecans to give them a taste of the South. My girlfriend said, with a note of horror and shock that I would serve such a thing, “it looks like CheezWhiz®.”I told her it was good and, out of politeness or hunger, she tried it. She ate it right up.
Anyway, I used some of these peppers to make a batch of pimento cheese. Their natural heat negated the need for Tabasco and cayenne, standard ingredient when using regular roasted peppers. I can be quite content eating pimento cheese and crackers, accompanied by a cold beer, for my dinner when I get back late from teaching an evening class. A little Southern comfort, far from home.
Poblano Pimento Cheese
Pimento cheese is a subject of fierce debate in the South, like jonnycakes (thick or thin?) or chowder in Rhode Island. Serve only with 60s-era crackers: Ritz™, or my personal favorite, Club™. Or in celery, also very 60s. Southerners eat pimento cheese sandwiches, on white bread. Makes about 1 ½ cups.
Since red ripe poblanos may be difficult to find, I provide alternate instructions for using roasted red bell peppers. This is a loose interpretation of a recipe from a nice Southern cookbook, Martha Hall Foose’s Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. You may be tempted to use a food processor. Don’t.
8 oz. very sharp yellow cheddar
1/3 cup, scant, mayonnaise (Hellman’s or homemade)
1 ½ medium red ripe poblanos, roasted and peeled (or 2-3 oz. jarred or home-prepared roasted peppers/pimientos)
½ tea dry mustard
¼ tea dried sage
½ tea Worcestershire sauce
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
If using regular peppers, also add:
1/8 tea ground cayenne pepper
Tabasco to taste
In a small bowl, mix the mayo, mustard, sage, Worcestershire and, if using standard peppers, the cayenne. Grate the cheese on the largest holes of a box grater and add, mixing.
Using the tines of a good fork, mash the peppers on a board until they are a small, dicey mush. Add them to the cheese/mayo mixture and whisk around with the fork. Season with salt, pepper (and if needed, Tabasco) to taste. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld. Take out about 10 minutes before serving.