Tarragon and Carrot Mac & Cheese

carrot-mac-and-cheese-002As I flipped through the  latest issue of Food & Wine magazine, several recipes caught my eye.  Two of those that I dog-eared used fresh tarragon, an herb that isn’t a part of  my usual recipe repertoire.  I decided it couldn’t hurt to expand my culinary horizons, so I picked up a bunch the next time I was at the market. 

Tarragon has long, narrow, tender leaves and a licorice-like scent.  It is one of the key herbs in “fines herbes”, an herbal combination often used in French cookery.   While I used most other fresh herbs very liberally when cooking, it is best to go easy with tarragon.  Like rosemary, the flavor is strong and you can quickly end up with too much of a good thing. 

I decided to use my tarragon in a F&W recipe for Carrot Macaroni and Cheese.  The idea is to use pureed carrots as the base for the sauce so you don’t have to use as much cheese (which can add a lot of excess fat and calories).  At first it felt reminiscent of Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious concept of “hiding” pureed vegetables in your kids’ meals (here’s what I think about that).  However, I must say that the carrot puree makes the dish, rather than attempting to disguise itself as something else.  My kids loved it—it was sweet and creamy, and the touch of tarragon added just the right “je ne sais quoi”…how’s that for French cooking?

Carrot Macaroni and Cheese (Adapted from Food & Wine magazine)

Serves 4

3/4 lbs carrots, thinly sliced

1/2 cup orange juice

3/4 lb pasta (penne, spirals, elbows, or bowties)

1  1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

1/2 breadcrumbs

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine the carrots and OJ in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce heat to simmer.  Cook until carrots are very soft, about 20 minutes.  Transfer to a food processor (a mini-prep is a perfect size) or blender and puree.  Add a little water as needed for a smooth puree.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.  Reserve 1 cup of cooking water, drain pasta, and return to pot with carrot puree and reserved water.  Stir over low heat until smooth and incorporated, and slightly thickened.  Add tarragon, salt and pepper to taste, and 1 cup of cheese and stir until melted.

Pour entire mixture into a 2.5 quart casserole dish and top with breadcrumbs and remaining cheese.  Bake about 15-20 minutes, until topping is melted and lightly browned.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

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