‘Tis the season for warm gingerbread cookies, spiked eggnog, and time in the kitchen spent making memories that will last a lifetime. Enter: Chef Ashley Christensen, the creative force behind AC Restaurants, with her mouthwatering recipe for Pimento Mac and Cheese Custard and a bonus recipe for Herbed Béchamel.
The baked custard-style mac — a local favorite at Beasley’s Chicken + Honey — bridges two classic comfort dishes with the addition of tangy pimentos. Plus, it’s perfect for holiday cooking prep. “This mac can be made in advance and suffers no compromise in quality,” chef Ashley told RALtoday.
This spin on a comforting classic is based on her mom’s holiday Crock-Pot mac and cheese — a Thanksgiving staple that’s been brought to the family’s table for about a decade.
“The romance of this dish for me is based on the memory from childhood of eating at the K&W Cafeteria,” chef Ashley said. “It’s almost hard to think of it without imagining turnip greens swimming in pepper vinegar, a fried chicken dark meat quarter, and a piece of coconut cream pie waiting in the back corner of my buffet tray.”
Hungry yet? Here’s everything you need to get started.
Pimento Mac and Cheese Custard
Makes 12 to 16 servings
- Kosher salt
- 8 ounces elbow macaroni
- 8 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded
- 4 ounces aged cheddar cheese, shredded
- 4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 cup jarred pimentos, chopped
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 6 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons hot sauce (such as Tabasco)
- One 12-ounce can evaporated milk
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 8 cups Herbed Béchamel (a cream sauce)*
Pro tip: Use freshly-grated cheese (rather than pre-grated packed cheese) for a creamier and meltier dish.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- Fill a large pot with water and salt it generously. Bring to a boil over high heat, add the macaroni, and cook for ~5 minutes (until just shy of al dente). Drain and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the three cheeses. Remove and reserve one-fourth of the cheese mixture for the top. Add the macaroni, pimentos, and flour to the cheese mixture and mix well to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
- In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until blended, then whisk in the hot sauce, evaporated milk, half-and-half, and 2 teaspoons salt, mixing well. While whisking constantly, slowly add the béchamel to create a custard. Pour the custard evenly over the noodle mixture.
- Cover with a layer of plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil and bake for 50 minutes, rotating the dish 180 degrees halfway through baking.
- Uncover, sprinkle the reserved cheese on top, and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes (until set, golden, and bubbling). If you plan to freeze, do not add the cheese topping.
- Remove from the oven and let sit for five minutes before serving.
Pro tip: This dish can be frozen for up to three months. To reheat, place the dish in a cold oven set to 350° F. When the oven reaches temperature, bake for 1½ hours, then sprinkle the surface with the remaining cheese mix and bake for 15 minutes longer, until bubbling.
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 8 thyme sprigs
- 3 shallots, minced
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups whole milk
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- In a medium Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat.
- Add the thyme, shallots, and garlic. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until fragrant and softened.
- Add the wine, bring to a simmer, and reduce for about 10 minutes, until almost completely evaporated. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs.
- Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir well to coat. Continue to cook, stirring, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the flour smells nutty and has begun to take on a hint of light tan.
- While stirring constantly, slowly add the milk and cream. Bring to a gentle simmer, continuing to stir, and cook until the mixture thickens to the consistency of thick gravy (~6 minutes).
- Season with the salt and pepper to taste.
Note: These recipes have been adapted from “It’s Always Freezer Season” by Ashley Christensen and Kaitlyn Goalen.