For the past three years, with the exception of last year when I was in Indonesia, Devin and I camp at Sequoia National Park for Thanksgiving. And every Thanksgiving, I look forward to eating carrot macaroni and cheese.
I will be in Tucson this Thanksgiving Day, so we are taking our Thanksgiving camping trip a little early this year. This means that I have already begun preparing food for our Thanksgiving camping feast. I cook our Thanksgiving feast ahead of time, freeze it so it stays cold in the cooler, and then I reheat the food over the campfire. It’s pretty stress-free.
First I use a vegetable peeler to slice carrots into long strips that I peel right into a large pot. Then I add the juice and peel of an orange. Since the recipe calls for removing the orange peel after cooking, I place all the orange peel in the center of the pot and arrange the carrot slices around it so they don’t intermingle. Some water and salt is added, then the pot is covered, and the carrots and orange peel are simmered until soft (about 30 minutes).
Next, I grated about 4 oz. of sharp cheddar cheese as I waited for the carrots to cook.
Once the carrots have become soft, I remove the orange peel, let the carrots cool a bit, then puree the carrots and any remaining liquid from the pot. At this point, I preheat the oven. When I set the puree aside, I boiled whole wheat penne according to the directions on the package. The recipe calls for 9 oz. of penne, but I have yet to find a 9 oz. package of pasta, which is why I just use the whole box of 12 oz. penne and increase the amount of carrots (+1) and cheese (+1 oz.). Once al dente, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta. I added some of the pasta water to the carrot puree and gave it another couple of whirls to ensure a smooth sauce.
After draining the pasta, it goes back into the pot, along with the carrot puree, remaining reserved pasta water, 3/4ths of the cheese, tarragon, salt, and pepper. Stir, allowing the cheese to melt, then for the sake of packaging these for camping, I poured the pasta into two greased foil pans. The remaining cheese is added to the top at this point.
After 20 minutes in the oven, the cheese has all melted, the top is brown, and it smells so delicious in the kitchen. There is no butter or oil used in this recipe, so with the exception of the cheese (and carbs), it’s very healthy. There is no hiding the carrot flavor and it can be mistaken for squash. The tarragon goes very well with the carrots and cheese and really brings out the flavor of the dish. I have two pans of this waiting for me in the freezer and I can’t wait to devour one of them after a full day of hiking.
If you are inviting vegetarians to your Thanksgiving feast, this is a delicious, hearty dish that has Fall flavors.