Usually this column features a restaurant recipe that a reader asks me to persuade a chef to share.
This time, I decided to publish a recipe that I asked the chef to share.
At last winter’s Downtown Raleigh Home Show, The News & Observer sponsored the cooking stage and asked local chefs to do quick cooking demonstrations. (I was there, too, showing how to make pickled carrots.)
Chef Jake Wolf of downtown Raleigh’s Capital Club 16 demonstrated how to make his Smoked Paprika Pimento Cheese and Fig Crostini.
Now, I’ve tasted a lot of pimento cheese since moving to the South almost 20 years ago. My go-to recipe is the late Bill Neal’s version from Moreton Neal’s book, “Remembering Bill Neal: Favorite Recipes from a Life in Cooking.” (If you didn’t know, Neal, the original chef at Chapel Hill’s Crook’s Corner, is the reason shrimp and grits is so ubiquitous today.) The key ingredient, in my opinion, is a little bit of bourbon.
But Wolf’s version is stellar and will have dinner guests raving. The key ingredient is smoked paprika, which adds a meaty, umami flavor to the rich cheese spread. Spread on crostini, dabbed with apple jelly and topped with a slice of dried fig, it becomes revelatory.
Who knew so humble a spread could be elevated so?
When Wolf opened Capital Club 16 in 2010, the menu offered versions of Southern recipes influenced by his most recent cooking experiences in Germany and stateside German restaurants. In the German recipe canon is Bavarian O’batzda, a beer cheese spread heavily seasoned with smoked paprika.
“So we tried it out,” Wolf wrote in an email. “A dusting of smoked paprika in the pimento cheese mixture sets it off with a unique flavor and also gives it a nice bursting orange color.”
If you want to taste the results for yourself first, the pimento cheese is on the regular and catering menu at Capital Club 16. If you become as addicted as I am, it is good to know that the restaurant sells it by the quart.
Specialty of the House gets recipes for local restaurant dishes. Send requests, including your city, to Specialty of the House, The N&O, P.O. Box 191, Raleigh, N.C. 27602; or email email@example.com.
Capital Club 16, 16 W. Martin St., Raleigh. 919-747-9345. capitalclub16.com
Smoked Paprika Pimento Cheese and Fig Crostinis
From chef Jake Wolf of Raleigh’s Capital Club 16
4 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1/4 cup diced pimientos
1/4 cup smoked sweet paprika
1/4 small sweet onion, grated
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Apple or strawberry jam
Dried fig, sliced
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Combine cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, pimientos, paprika, grated onion and garlic cloves and sugar until evenly blended. Cut and toast baguette slices. Spread pimento cheese evenly on slice of bread. Top each one with a dab of jam and a fig slice.
Yield: 12-18 servings