Mac and Cheese with Carrots

Like most little kids, my daughter 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. 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.–Melissa Clark

LC Getting By With A Little Help From Your Friends Note

There’s not always room in a recipe for all the tricks and tactics that a cookbook author has come to learn in making a recipe over and over and over again. Fortunately, cookbook author and recipe conjurer Melissa Clark also considers herself a friend to readers, so she has has these additional tricks, tactics, and tips to share:

–This is one of those macaroni and cheeses with an eggy custard base that puffs as it cooks and is cut into squares, like a casserole, as opposed to that gooey, creamy, stove-top béchamel sauce version. I know some people have strong opinions about what constitutes a proper mac and cheese–I’m an equal opportunist myself, but thought I’d let you know what you’re getting yourself into before starting the recipe.

–If grating the Cheddar cheese in a food processor, you don’t need to clean it before grating the carrots–or vice versa.

–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.

–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.

Mac and Cheese with Carrots Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 20 M
  • 1 H
  • Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 cups macaroni, preferably whole-wheat
  • 2 1/2 cups (about 8 smallish carrots) coarsely grated carrot
  • 3 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the baking dish
  • 3/4 cup sour cream (not low-fat or non-fat)
  • 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

Directions

  • 1. Preheat the oven to 400° F (204°C). Adjust the oven rack to the top third of the oven. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish.
  • 2. Cook the macaroni according to package instructions, adding the grated carrots about 3 minutes before the pasta is due to be done. Drain the pasta and carrots in a colander.
  • 3. Dump the hot pasta and carrots back into the pot and stir in 2 1/2 cups of the Cheddar and all of the butter. In another bowl, whisk together the sour cream, milk, eggs, salt, mustard powder, and pepper, and then fold this mixture into the pasta. Scrape the cheesy pasta into the prepared dish and sprinkle with the remaining Cheddar and the Parmesan.
  • 4. Bake the carroty mac and cheese casserole until it’s firm to the touch and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let it cool for a few minutes, then slice or scoop it straight from the baking dish.
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Anna Scott

Jan 02, 2012

Like the recipe writer, I am always open to trying different types of mac and cheese — and I liked the idea of “hiding” a vegetable in the dish for kids. But picky children aside, my fiancé and I loved this recipe as well! It was very easy to put together and very tasty. I always try to use whole-wheat pastas when available, so that is another good thing about the recipe —substituting whole-wheat pasta in a kid-friendly dish. Kids would never know it was better for them! I used a nice baby Swiss cheese instead of sharp Cheddar. I like the suggestion of trying the dish with aged Gouda; I bet that is delicious as well. This was a great recipe that I would like to try next time with a different ‘hidden’ vegetable…maybe peas?

Testers Choice
Rebecca Marx

Jan 02, 2012

I admit that I was initially skeptical of this recipe, for the simple reason that the idea of grated carrots in mac ‘n’ cheese sounded kind of, well, gross, and I’ve had lackluster experiences in the past with whole-wheat pasta. But! My skepticism started to dissipate when the smell of baking cheese started emanating from the oven, and then vanished completely with my first bite of the finished product. In short, it’s just delicious. Once out of the oven, its lifespan was about 20 minutes. The pasta’s wholesomeness is a welcome contrast to the decadence of the cheese, and the slight nuttiness of the whole wheat works well with the saltiness of the cheese and slight sweetness of the carrots. I’m also now a big fan of using this egg/sour cream-based sauce instead of a béchamel — it’s lighter but still creamy. As a side note, I didn’t have any sour cream, so I substituted some plain goat’s milk yogurt, which worked very well. I also used about one cup more pasta than called for, because the given amount seemed a bit skimpy. Everything still fit into my eight-inch pan, and there was plenty of cheese and sauce to go around. Cheese-wise, I used a blend of raclette, Parmesan, and a bit of Gruyère I had lying around and needed to finish.

Testers Choice
Julie T.

Jan 02, 2012

Not only is this an easy to follow recipe, but it is also delicious! The carrots added just a hint of sweetness that was perfectly balanced with the mustard and black pepper. It was just delicious. Go feed your inner child some nutritious cheesy goodness and make this recipe now!!

Testers Choice
Sheri C.

Jan 02, 2012

More like a baked pasta rather than a traditional creamy mac & cheese, this is still terrific. The carrots don’t overwhelm the dish, but they add a bit of color and sweetness. There’s just the right amount of cheese, and I really liked the sliceable texture.

Testers Choice
Rebecca R.

Jan 02, 2012

This is a good basic mac and cheese recipe, and it’s pretty easy to make, since the traditional step of making a white sauce is eliminated. The carrots blend nearly invisibly into the extra-sharp cheddar I used, and I wouldn’t have noticed them at all if I hadn’t been looking. I did detect a slightly distracting wheat taste in the casserole from the whole wheat macaroni, so I think I’d prefer try a different brand next time, but it wouldn’t stop me from making this again. Despite the healthier additions of carrots and whole wheat macaroni, this is still a pretty rich dish with all the eggs and sour cream and cheese, and I found the serving size to be just a little too large for me. I’ll probably more comfortably get eight servings out of it.

Testers Choice
Natalie Reebel

Jan 02, 2012

The prep for this dish was so easy. I have not always had success with whole wheat pasta, but this recipe is a keeper. The instructions are easy to follow and work as written. The resulting macaroni and cheese comes out of the oven bubbly, golden brown, and smelling delicious. Even though this is the type of mac and cheese meant to be sliced, it’s not at all dry, but creamy. It has a rich flavor, but it’s not heavy. The sharp cheddar adds some tang, but it is not overpowering. It was so good I had three servings myself. No added hot sauce was required. This is a great weeknight go-to you can feel good about making.

Testers Choice
Debra K.

Jan 02, 2012

I usually avoid recipes for kids that try to hide “good for you” vegetables, as they tend to mask the taste of the vegetables too much for my liking. The color, texture and flavor of the carrots really enhance this version of mac & cheese. This is an incredibly user-friendly recipe, with helpful tips included in the instructions. This recipe works well just as it is, but my suggestions help make it a little bit more grown-up. I went for using Gruyere instead of Cheddar; any favorite cheese would also work.

Brilliant advice about using a food processor to shred the carrots, then the Cheddar, without having to clean the bowl in between. I’m imagining any other dairy product similar to sour cream can be used, if need be, like drained yogurt, creme fraiche, or mascarpone. Next time I’ll skip the butter, use a grainy mustard, and substitute breadcrumbs for some of the Parmesan. It comes out of the oven in a molten state, so make sure to let it rest a bit before serving, especially with children!

Testers Choice
Dan Kraan

Jan 02, 2012

This Carroty Mac and Cheese is a great diversion from the regular mono-colored varieties out there. I’ve never been averse to adding vegetables to my mac & cheese. This version has a nice color and great flavor. We had some pretty fussy eaters over this past weekend, and this stuff did not last! The sriracha sauce is a very good recommendation for those who like a bit of a kick. Try the Sriracha. One note, if you’re going to serve six with this, four of them should probably be children — better yet, double the recipe!

Testers Choice
Terri D.

Jan 02, 2012

Loved the idea of the carroty mac and cheese, especially for getting veggies into the kids. The custard-like mac and cheese is the basic form of mac & cheese with a nice crunchy top. It had a very buttery top, and I ended up sopping up some of the excess butter with a paper towel before serving. This mac & cheese was enjoyed by all ages, and I have to say, no one was fazed by the carrots. The adults enjoyed it with the Sriracha sauce on top.

Comments
Comments
  1. Jamie says:

    Looks and sounds delicious! I wonder if my own vegetable-hating son would overlook the carrots? But for the cheesy goodness of the rest – maybe. If not, more for me! Looks fabulous! I love Melissa’s shortcuts.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Jamie, if you’re worried about the flecks of carrot, you can try what I do, which is to stir in some pureed carrots or sweet potatoes (or, in a pinch, a jar of baby food pureed orange veggies) to the mac-n-cheese. It’s all orange still, and the veggies lend just a slight sweetness to the mac-n-cheese. No one’s figured it out yet!

  2. Karen says:

    Just served some up…very colorful & tasty. I employed similar methods when our boys were home. We had the most success when the food was simply presented, no comment, certainly no fanfare. If they questioned a particle I would tell them it was a secret treat.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Perfect, Karen. Perfect. Definitely a situation, as you say, in which the fewer words, the better…

  3. Sofia says:

    We literally just finished dinner and the general consensus was to remake it again and again. Thankfully I have kids who love their veggies so the idea of hiding them is never a problem, but loved the sweetness it brought to the traditional Mac&Cheese. I actually used three types of cheeses I needed to finish, so the taste may have been stronger than the ones suggested in this recipe. I used extra sharp cheddar, Pecorino and Ilha, therefore decided not to bother adding the salt as these cheeses are already pretty salty on their own. The top crust came out a outstanding and I could have made a meal of that alone!

  4. Emily Olson says:

    I quickly threw this mac & cheese together last night for dinner and added a few more grown-up ingredients. I reduced the mustard powder down to 1/4 teaspoon and added a 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder. In lieu sour cream (didn’t have any), I used up some mascarpone cheese (had to, I promise) along with some plain whole milk yogurt. Rather than Parmesan cheese, I sprinkled some whole wheat bread crumbs on top just prior to baking. The mac & cheese bakes up golden and puffy. I might have had seconds!

    • David Leite says:

      Emily, and right before dinner time! That sounds fantastic. And there’s nothing wrong with mascarpone cheese. I added a cup (plus a stick of butter and a cup of cream) to my mashed potatoes last week. Everyone was protesting…but always through full mouths.

  5. A.C. says:

    What about smoked Gouda? Maybe mixed?

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      I think I’d do smoked Gouda, as you suggest, in tandem with the Cheddar, A.C. Seems the casserole may sort of call out for something to cut the smokiness of the cheese, something to round it out a touch…

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Send it along. Covet one of those spiffy pictures of yourself to go along with your comment? Get a free Gravatar. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

*

Daily Subscription

Enter your email address and get all of our updates sent to your inbox the moment they're posted. Be the first on your block to be in the know.

Preview daily e-mail

Weekly Subscription

Hate tons of emails? Do you prefer info delivered in a neat, easy-to-digest (pun intended) form? Then enter your email address for our weekly newsletter.

Preview weekly e-mail