Pimento Cheese is often called the paté of the South. Country classic and city chic. We serve it out of a tub on saltines, or incorporated into elegant hors d’ouevres. Meat-and-threes and mom-and-pops sell it between slices of white bread, and upmarket restaurants serve it on platters with house made charcuterie. It is ubiquitous, and useful. It’s good to have around when guests are visiting, and an excellent dish to take to a new mother or the recently bereaved. It is immutable (cheese, pimentos, mayonnaise) and yet somehow permutable. Add spicier peppers, a variety of cheeses, onions or garlic. Every lover of pimento cheese has their favorite and very particular opinions on what does and does not constitute “real” pimento cheese – spicy, too spicy, not creamy enough, too much mayonnaise, too smooth, too chunky. I, of course, make the best pimento cheese in the world ever, period. And for me, the addition of chipotle peppers may be a lovely idea, but it simply is not “real” pimento cheese.
At the heart of this is the fact that the flavor combination of basic pimento cheese is a good one. Tangy sharp cheese, peppers with bite but not heat and creamy mayonnaise just work together. Wonderfully. So taking the flavor combination and applying it to other dishes just seems natural. It works in macaroni and cheese, on a burger, in a grilled cheese sandwich. I treat myself often to some Pimento Cheese Biscuits with Creamy Tomato Soup, or mix it up and make the soup with the flavors of pimento cheese.
Pimento Cheese Soup with Tangy Toast
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimentos
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
¼ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken broth
3 cups milk
1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Hot sauce (optional)
In a 5 quart Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat then add the diced carrot, celery and onion. Sauté until the onion is translucent and the vegetables are soft, stirring frequently. Try to prevent browning the vegetables. When the vegetables are soft, add 1 Tablespoon from the jar of pimentos and stir. Add the garlic and stir, cooking for one more minute. Sprinkle over the paprika and cook, stirring, until it is nice and fragrant, about a minute. Add the flour and stir to coat the vegetables, until there is no flour visible. Pour in the chicken broth and stir well. Raise the heat and bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium, partially cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, or very carefully in a blender in batches, puree the soup until smooth. If you prefer a chunkier soup, you can blend it just a bit to break down the largest chunks. Add the milk and stir well. Raise the heat to medium high and when the soup is just steaming, add the grated cheese in handfuls, stirring after each addition, until the cheese is melted and the soup is smooth. Do not let the soup boil. Stir in the remaining pimentos and Worcestershire sauce and season well with salt and a few grinds of black pepper. If you like, add a dash or two of hot sauce.
Serve immediately, or leave to cool, refrigerate for up to one day, and reheat slowly over medium heat. Do not let the soup boil.
Use one or two pieces of firm white sandwich bread for each bowl of soup. Trim the crusts from the bread, then spread an even layer of mayonnaise on each slice. You’ll want more than a barely visible skim of mayonnaise, but not a thick pile either. Sprinkle with paprika and a little salt. Toast the bread slices in the oven on a rack set over a baking sheet, or in a toaster oven, until crispy and browned. Cut the slices into neat triangles, or into small crouton cubes.