I’m often asked what my routine is for getting dinner on the table. It’s sort of a shoot-from-the-hip style that’s based on what’s in the fridge, what looks good at the market, and most importantly, what I’m in the mood to cook and eat (the major upside of being at the helm of the stove). I’m not nearly as ordered as many of you. There is little advanced planning; no “sandwich night” or “crock pot Wednesday” or “meatless Monday.” Once in a blue moon we do indulge in “anything night,” which means I’m too tuckered out to cook and the kids eat whatever they consider dinner while I avert my eyes.
All that being said, I do have a number of dishes in my repertoire that rotate in on a pretty regular basis. Included is this Creamy Carrot Mac and Cheese, which is usually made at the request of my youngest, Virginia, who is a big fan
Creamy Carrot Mac and Cheese is adapted from a recipe by Jeremy Fox, a chef who developed a reputation for working magic with vegetables. He launched the Napa Valley restaurant, Ubuntu, a number of years ago to great acclaim and Michelin stars, not exactly common for a vegetarian eatery.
Unlike classic mac and cheese, which starts with a white sauce into which you melt loads of cheese, this version is built on a base of cooked carrots that you whirl with low-fat milk into a creamy puree. Add pasta, sharp Cheddar and chopped chives and bake until the flavors meld. The result is a mac and cheese that gives you a sizable amount of vegetables in every serving. Swapping out some of the cheese for carrots also means it’s markedly lower in fat and calories than the traditional approach. Make it with whole grain pasta, and you add fiber as well.
This dish could be construed as one of those “sneaky” types: a vehicle for getting veggies into the kids. The vibrant orange of the carrots could certainly masquerade as cheese and the taste could probably get past a picky eater. This sort off vegetable trickery, a topic I wrote about recently here, is something about which I have mixed feelings. What I do know is that a lightened up mac and cheese makes sense as the cold weather rolls in, the opportunities for indulging ratchet up, and lives get busier. Or, you could just hang up your apron for the evening and let the kids have an “anything night.”
CREAMY CARROT MAC AND CHEESE
1 pound carrots, peeled (about 4 large carrots)
2/3 cup water
5 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 2 cups)
12 ounces penne pasta (about 4 cups dried)
1 1/4 cup low-fat milk
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Slice the carrots very thin, put them in a medium pot and add the water and the salt. Bring to a boil, drop the heat so the water boils gently, and cover with a lid. Cook until the carrots are tender enough to mash with a fork, about 25 minutes.
While the carrots cooks, bring a big pot of generously salted water to a boil and cook the pasta. Reserve about a quarter cup of the pasta cooking water and then drain the pasta. Put the cooked pasta back into the pot.
When the carrots are tender, put them along with any remaining carrot cooking liquid into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the milk and puree until silky smooth. You can also do this with a blender.
Stir the carrot puree into the pasta. Set aside about 1/2 cup of the cheese and add the remainder to the pasta along with the chives, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed. If the sauce seems too thick, stir in a tablespoon or two of the pasta water.
Transfer pasta to a baking dish that’s about 8 x 11 inches. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake for 20 minutes. If you want the cheese brown and crispy on top, set under the broiler just before serving.
Makes 4 to 5 servings
Adapted from this recipe by chef Jeremy Fox in Food and Wine magazine