The South has a special place in my soul. I went to college there (go deacs!), and my brother and sister-in-law now live in Carborro, a hippie, food-obsessed nook outside Chapel Hill, NC. I just returned from a week-long vacation there, where my family hiked, biked, and ate everything that would stand still long enough to be fried. But what I’m still dreaming about are the pimento cheese paninis we had at Parker & Otis in Durham. Why this savory spread—a heavenly combination of shredded cheese, mayonaise, and chopped pimentos—hasn’t caught on in the land of potlucks is beyond me. It’s so simple to make, and supremely satisfying when spread on a cracker, baguette, or in this case—grilled. I had Parker’ & Otis’ version on my 100-things-to-do-before-I-die list ever since I saw the recipe in Bon Appetit. Instead of bacon, I prefer to top it with tomato, which lends a sweet relief from the richness.
PIMENTO CHEESE DIP
2 cups coarsely grated sharp yellow cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces)
2 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp white cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces)
1 cup finely chopped drained pimientos or drained roasted red and yellow peppers from jar
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
Mix first 5 ingredients in large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover; chill. Use as filling for grilled cheese, or serve as a dip with baguette slices and vegetables.
Of course, no summer in the South would be complete without mint juleps. I keep a special plot in my garden for mint, which grows like a weed. It’s just starting to emerge, and when it does I will start mixing up this sweet, refreshing cocktail to serve on the deck. I like it with a clean, rye-based bourbon like Bulleit but Knob Creek and Maker’s Mark work well, too. The recipe below appears in the current issue of Edible Piedment, another great resource for southern foodies. One word of caution; juleps pack a punch despite their taste, so sip slowly—like a good southerner.
CLASSIC MINT JULEP
4 fresh mint sprigs
2 1/2 oz bourbon whiskey
1 tsp caster or superfine sugar
2 tsp water
Muddle the mint leaves, sugar, and water in the julep cup or Old-fashioned glass. Fill the glass with shaved or crushed ice, and add the bourbon. Then, top with more ice and garnish with a mint sprig. Serve with a straw.
Serves 1 in a julep cup or Old-Fashioned glass.