I am not a native Southerner. Far from it, actually. So I don’t know what right I have putting collard greens and pimento peppers in something and calling it “Southern.” But I am from California and as soon as you put an avocado on something it becomes “Californian”. So there you go. It’s not much of an argument, except to say that I am not the first person to play into food stereotypes.
Even though I am not a Southerner by birth, I have adopted the cuisine here in the South pretty quickly. I love pulled pork, even have my own pimento cheese recipe, and think there is nothing better than perfectly cooked collard greens. My heart may be in California, but my stomach is pretty happy here in the Carolinas.
After spying the left over jar of pimentos in the fridge I said to my husband, “what if we made pimento mac and cheese!?!” He was on board immediately and I went to work changing a few things around on my usual mac and cheese recipe. In that recipe I like to throw in some kale to try to make it a bit healthier, which made me realized that I could switch out the kale with collard greens. It sounded pretty good in theory, but would it work out in practice?
One thing about my mac and cheese recipe is that it’s not all that quick. It has quite a few steps and requires the use of several pots, which isn’t normally my style. For my cheese sauce, I like to use cauliflower to add thickness and creaminess instead of relying on cream or milk. That requires that I boil the cauilflower until tender, then blend it up with some milk before adding to the cheese mixture, which has its own pot. Then there is the collard greens, which I like to cook slowly with some bacon until wilted and tinted slightly brown. And of course the pasta needs to cook up in its own pot of water. You could definitely use the same water as the cauliflower if you don’t have enough pots (I sure don’t).
Once all the components are cooked, it’s downhill from there. Throw them all into one big pot and stir them together. You could stop here, but I like to bake the mac in a baking dish or cast iron skillet to get it golden and crispy on top.
To ensure the top gets crispy, I sprinkle on a mixture of almond meal (ground pecans would be awesome and add to that “Southern” taste), Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and paprika. You could also top with any extra bacon or cheese. Then they get baked for about 20 minutes until the tops is nice and golden.
My husband and I were both pretty thrilled with the results. In the future, we may add more pimentos because that flavor was sort of lost, but the smokey collard greens and the creamy cheese sauce perfectly complimented one another.
- 1/4 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
- 3 strips bacon, chopped
- 1 tsp butter
- salt & pepper
- 1 bunch collard greens, cleaned and chopped (about 4 cups)
- 4-6 oz whole wheat macaroni pasta
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 tsp oregano
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp onion powder
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1/2 tsp corn starch
- 3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar
- 3 tbsp pimentos, chopped
- 2 tbsp almond meal
- 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- Bring a pot filled with about 2 cups of water to a boil. Add cauliflower, reduce heat to medium, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until cauliflower is fork tender. Strain and let cool.
- Over medium heat, place bacon pieces in a pot or large sautee pan and cook until rendered and crispy. Add butter, greens, and a pinch of salt and pepper, the toss to coat greens in butter and bacon grease. Cover and cook over medium-low head until wilted and tender.
- Fill a large stock pot with about 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cook pasta to package directions, then strain and put aside.
- Place the cauliflower in a blender or food processor with milk and corn starch. Process until completely smooth.
- In a sauce pan over medium high heat, add oil and garlic and sautee for about 2 minutes. Stir in oregano, paprika, and onion powder. Add in cauliflower mixture and cheese and stir until cheese is completely melted. Stir in pimentos. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- In the empty large stock pot, add in strained pasta, collard greens, and cheese sauce. Stir until pasta is completely coated. Transfer into a 8x8 square baking dish or cast iron skillet.
- In a small bowl, mix together almond meal, Parmesan, olive oil, paprika, and pepper. Sprinkle mixture evenly over the top of the mac and cheese.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Remove and let cool for 2 minutes before serving.