Food & Wine (April 2009)
When selecting recipes from food magazines, there's never any guarantee that they're going to be good. Sure, food mags have test kitchens and recipes have (we hope) been tested multiple times before being published.
But even when following recipes to the letter, there can be problems. Sometimes the cooking time may be off. Or there might not be much flavor. But sometimes you find a real treasure of a recipe -- something that really wows you and makes you want to return to it again and again.
So it's a gamble.
And when you choose something called "Carrot Macaroni and Cheese," it's an especially big gamble. I mean, when's the last time you heard of Carrot Mac and Cheese?
Would it be a hit or a miss?
We're not big mac and cheese people. We sometimes order it in restaurants, when it's dressed up with decadence (lobster, bacon, etc.).
Our most memorable mac-'n'-cheese experience was at a wedding last year that had a macaroni and cheese bar, where you could mix in just about any ingredient that you wanted. (This particular wedding also had a shrimp and grits bar AND served sliders and fries at midnight, as guests were leaving. Best. Wedding. Food. Ever.)
Tell the truth, most of the mac and cheese we've eaten in our day is of the blue box variety, and most of it was consumed during college.
Carrot Macaroni and Cheese was appealing to us because it was not only a healthier version of the classic dish, but also because it uses carrots (one of our favorite vegetables) and citrus to add flavor to the dish using orange peel.
This is not a simple, throw-together dish. You must cook the carrots for 30 minutes, blend them and then toss them with cooked pasta. Then you add the cheese and bake the dish for another 20-30 minutes. We easily spent an hour and a half cooking.
So, Carrot Macaroni and Cheese: great new take on a classic or unnecessary update?
The latter, we're afraid.
The dish did not taste bad. It just tasted like its individual parts: pasta, carrots, and cheese. The flavors somehow just didn't meld, causing the dish to taste more like "pasta with a sprinkling of carrots and cheese." We thought letting it sit overnight might bring all the flavors together. But the next day was no different -- same, bland taste.
So, all in all, a bit of a misfire. But it was fun giving it a try. That's the thing about gambles.
Do you cook mac and cheese? Have a favorite recipe? Let us know!
* ACTIVE: 30 MIN
* TOTAL TIME: 1 HR 20 MIN
* SERVINGS: 4
-- 3/4 pound carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
-- Zest and juice of 1 navel orange, zest removed in strips with a vegetable peeler
-- 3 cups penne rigate (9 ounces)
-- 3 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. 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.