I’ve made my share of macaroni and cheese in the 1840 Farm kitchen. From the homemade to the (I’m sorry to say) character-shaped pasta shapes in cheese sauce the color of a dayglo orange construction cone. I’m hoping that you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me. I couldn’t help it. I live with a marathon runner and two children. Pasta for dinner is a necessity. Can you blame me?
I prefer the homemade variety of macaroni and cheese. That wasn’t always the case. In fact, I have a vivid childhood memory of my grandmother making me macaroni and cheese from scratch during a visit to her home in New York. She proudly proclaimed that she was making me macaroni and cheese for dinner. Some time later, she presented me with a deliciously creamy pasta dish made with sharp white cheddar.
I’m sorry to say that as a child from the midwest, all I saw was that it didn’t look like the blue Kraft box variety I was used to. The noodles were a different shape. The cheese was a different color and so sharp that it nearly knocked me off my chair. It was too much for my pediatric brain to accept. I don’t remember how much of my dinner I ended up eating that night. I do remember that my grandmother never made me macaroni and cheese from scratch again. She stuck to the blue box and saved her kitchen time for breads, pastries, and desserts. We were both happier.
Now the joke is on me. It’s been too many decades for me to freely admit to and now I have a child who looks at homemade macaroni and cheese as if I am asking him to eat haggis. And getting back to the marathon runner and other child, they’d rather not eat pasta that comes with a side of angioplasty. So, how do you make a rich, creamy macaroni and cheese without just adding more and more cheese? Enter the carrot.
Yes, you read that correctly. The carrot. With a very small amount of prep work, you end up with a lighter, healthier, dare I say better, version of the family favorite. And, as a bonus, thanks to the carrot, that incredibly rich orange color will be sure to follow. I’m not suggesting that you hide the carrots from your family although I know that this kind of Tom Foolery has come into fashion lately. Instead, I would encourage you to celebrate the astonishing fact that you could make macaroni and cheese that tastes this good using something so good for you.
While it may serve me right that my son doesn’t appreciate this version (or any other) of homemade macaroni and cheese, I have learned my lesson. I don’t force him to eat carrotoni and cheese. He’s not ready for it yet. I’ll take my grandmother’s lead and stick to his other favorites when I’m cooking for him. I know he’ll come around, it just may take him a decade or two.
This recipe is adapted from a recipe that first appeared in the April 2009 issue of Food & Wine Magazine and it has taken me several attempts to get it just right. While the original recipe calls for baking the dish in the oven, I find that baking the pasta leads to a drier macaroni than suits my taste. I prefer to skip the baking step and enjoy a creamier version of this dish. Either way, the end result tastes delicious.
Combine carrots and vegetable stock in a medium-sized saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 15-25 minutes until fork tender. Remove from heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt the boiling water. Add pasta to pot and return to boil. As pasta is cooking to al dente, remove 1 cup of pasta water.
Add pasta water to carrot mixture. Using traditional blender or hand-held immersion blender, process carrots until smooth (use caution when processing hot liquids).
With smooth carrot mixture in pot over medium low heat, add cheese and thyme and stir until melted and smooth. Add cooked pasta and stir to combine. Add pasta water as needed until mixture is desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Serve hot.