Sunday, September 06, 2009

Carrot Macaroni and Cheese - It's Baked! It Still Totally Counts, You Guys

If you've ever been to a Costco or any other kind of bulk food store, you've no doubt encountered the giant pallets of Kraft macaroni and cheese. And if you're like me (i.e., awesome) you know exactly how difficult it is not to grab 45 boxes and head straight to the Kirkland Signature wine aisle. Because in spite of all of my efforts to eat healthfully and incorporate more whole grains into my diet, unholy orange is still one of my all-time favorite flavors. My dude and I left the store without the mac not because we're virtuous, but because we are not ready to admit that we are capable of eating that much Kraft cheese, even though who are we kidding, really. Next weekend we'll totally be running down to the deli for our next fix. We're kind of like smokers who insist on buying our cigarettes one pack at a time rather than by the carton at the airport. Sure, it's more expensive, but we like to cling onto the possibility that this one really is our last box.

I'm not going to argue that this recipe is an analog to the little blue box. It is admittedly more time-consuming, and it contains actual ingredients found in nature -- wait! Don't close the tab! What I was going to say is that while this recipe produces a different kind of macaroni and cheese, I've found that it satisfies my cravings without the guilt and chemical aftertaste that tends to follow an E-Z Mac binge. I was as skeptical as anyone about the carrot puree, but it seems to function here almost like a roux, giving the cheese sauce a velvety texture. And as an added bonus, carrots are, you know, really good for you.

I found the original recipe a bit scanty on cheese so I upped it just a bit, but it still retains its healthy properties with a minimal increase in fat.

Carrot Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from  Food and Wine, April 2009
Serves 4

ADVANCE PREP: Making the carrot puree is the most time-consuming part of this recipe, so on several occasions I've made it in advance and stored it in the fridge overnight, with no ill effects.

  • 3/4 pound carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • Zest and juice of 1 navel orange, zest removed in strips with a vegetable peeler
  • Salt
  • 3 cups penne rigate (9 ounces)
  • 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
  • Freshly ground white pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a medium saucepan, combine the carrots with the zest and juice and 1/4 cup of water. Season with salt and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over moderate heat until the carrots are very soft, about 30 minutes. Discard the zest. (Kat sez: This is very important! The first time I made this I left the zest behind and the results were...orangey.) Transfer the carrots and any liquid to a blender and puree until very smooth.

2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

3. Return the pasta to the pot. Add the reserved water and the carrot puree and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the pasta is coated with a thickened sauce, about 5 minutes. Stir in three-fourths of the cheese and cook, stirring, until very creamy, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Stir in the tarragon and season with salt and white pepper.

4. Transfer the pasta to a medium baking dish and top with the remaining cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.


brian said...

Yum! I love a new kicked up mac and cheese, can't wait to try this recipe!

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