For as long as I can remember, my mother-in-law has brought a scalloped carrot dish to Thanksgiving that makes my husband week in the knees. This dish is one of his top ten favorite foods and, until recently, it only made an appearance once a year on the Thanksgiving day table. But not too long ago, faced with an abundance of carrots in our CSA, I decided to try the recipe for a regular weeknight dish. It turns out that not only is it pretty easy to put together on a weeknight, but it’s the favorite food of my toddler as well. Now when the scalloped carrots come to the table there are two diners dancing in their chairs waiting for the cheesy goodness to be scooped out onto their plates.
I can take no credit for the recipe. It’s a Taste of Home recipe that can be found here. There are a few small changes I make. First, I don’t measure the carrots and water. The recipe calls for 12 carrots and 6 cups of water. I put in as many carrots as my CSA provides and enough water to cover them. I don’t peel the carrots, I just trim the top. I boil the carrots until they are tender. If you’re pressed for time, it’s very easy to boil the carrots and then refrigerate them until you are ready to assemble the entire casserole later.
Next up, the white sauce. Hold on to your hats because I’m about to get all culinary here. This is an important technique to get right, so let’s explore. Technically, this recipe is making a form of Béchameil sauce, which is one of the 5 mother sauces of French cooking. That’s not necessarily important information to know unless you’re playing Trivial Pursuit. What is important to know is that this sauce shows up in recipe after recipe and too often it is rushed and ruined. You know how Aunt Bertha’s gravy is always lumpy? Her gravy starts as a Béchameil and she rushes it, ruining it. Any time a recipe calls for equal parts flour and melted butter to be cooked then milk to be added slowly, it is taking a page from this sauce. As with this recipe, you combine 1/4 c butter (with an onion cooked in it) with 1/4 c flour. Whisk that combination together until it is well blended and smooth. At this point you’ve got a roux. And at this point you could really ruin your sauce. The next step is to slowly add 2 cups of milk. When the instructions say slowly, they mean it. Add the milk a splash at a time, allowing each addition to incorporate before adding more. If you add all the milk at once, or add more before the previous addition is incorporated you will end up with Aunt Bertha’s lumpy gravy. But if you take your time, add the milk gradually, and whisk whisk whisk away, you will be rewarded with a creamy white sauce that is as smooth as silk.
The remaining instructions are simple. Layer half the carrots, half the sauce, and half the cheese in a dish. Repeat, top with buttery bread. Bake and serve.