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.
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.
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. 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.
*Note: 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.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange a rack in the top third of the oven.
Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Cook the macaroni according to package instructions in a large pot of salted boiling water. Add the carrot 3 minutes before the pasta is finished cooking and drain well. While the pasta is hot, stir in the butter and 2 ½ cups of the Cheddar cheese.
In a bowl, whisk together the sour cream, milk, eggs, salt, mustard powder, and pepper. Fold the mixture into the pasta. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining Cheddar cheese and Parmesan over the top. Bake until the casserole is firm to the touch and golden brown, about 30 minutes.