"Melissa Clark’s effervescent, inexhaustible enthusiasm for all things edible is wonderfully infectious. She really makes you want to drop everything, head for the kitchen and whip up an Upside-Down Polenta Plum Cake or Carroty Mac and Cheese."
That's what our BookPage cookbook columnist Sybil Pratt had to say about Cook This Now. These season-friendly recipes, arranged by Clark (food writer and columnist for the New York Times Dining Section), are the type of delicious meals you can't wait to make.
Carroty Mac and Cheese
Like most little kids, Dahlia loves macaroni and cheese, and I‘ve made it for her in many guises, running the gamut of techniques. My aim is always the same—to make the dish quickly with a minimum of fuss, and to use a maximum of vegetables that she will tolerate and not pick out.
This is one of both our favorites. It’s comforting, crusty topped, soft centered, and very cheesy—but not at all sophisticated. Just simple, kid-friendly, homemade food with the added grown-up appeal of lots of healthful carrots tossed into the mix.
I got the idea from a chef’s recipe in a glossy food magazine. The chef called for cooking carrots in butter and orange juice, pureeing them, and using the puree as a sauce for mac and cheese. I tried the recipe as written and was disappointed. It was a lot of work, and I didn’t like the sweetness of the citrus fruit interfering with my cheesy goodness.
So I decided to come up with my own simplified and ultra-Cheddary version. It was a huge hit with the under-three crowd and their parents, too.
It’s a straightforward recipe that comes together without much fuss, other than having to grate some carrots. But to make up for that, I’ve eliminated the need to make a cheese sauce on the top of the stove. Instead, I toss the hot pasta with grated cheddar, butter, sour cream for creaminess, and eggs to hold it all together. The grated carrots get boiled along with the pasta, so cooking them isn’t an extra step. And the tiny orange shreds look so much like the cheddar that your kids might not even notice they are there. Dahlia certainly hasn’t, and while I’ve never lied to her about their inclusion, I might have left out the word carrot in the dish description—accidentally, of course.
Makes 6 servings
- 2 cups whole wheat macaroni
- 2 1/2 cups coarsely grated carrot (about 8 small)
- 3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 400° F and grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Arrange a rack in the top third of the oven.
2. Cook macaroni according to package instructions in a large pot of salted boiling water; add carrot 3 minutes before pasta is finished cooking; drain well.
3. While pasta is hot, stir in all but 1/2 cup of the cheddar and the butter. In a bowl, whisk together the sour cream, milk, eggs, salt, mustard powder, and pepper. Fold mixture into the pasta.
4. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar and the parmesan over the top. Bake until the casserole is firm to the touch and golden brown, about 30 minutes.
- If you’re grating your cheddar cheese in the food processor, you don’t have to wash out the machine before grating the carrots. Or vice versa.
- This is one of those macaroni and cheeses with an eggy custard base that puffs as it cooks, and is cut into squares to serve, like a casserole, as opposed to that gooey, creamy, stove-top béchamel sauce version. I know that some people have strong opinions about proper mac and cheese (I’m an equal opportunist myself), but thought I’d let you know what you’re getting.
- Feed this dish to the kids as is; grown-ups should indulge with a squirt of fiery Sriracha or other hot sauce all over the top.
- You can vary the cheese to give this rather plain (if tasty) dish more personality. Gruyère, aged Cheddar, pecorino, and aged Gouda will all add a sophisticated allure that will raise it above mere kids’ food.