May 8, 2017

Island Cooking:  Creating New Flavors with Carrots


Without a doubt, carrots are the most common vegetables in anyone’s kitchen.  We all grew up eating carrots; first as pureed baby food, later as sticks in our school lunch boxes, and later still on a crudités platter with some sort of dip or spread.

The potential of a sophisticated carrot dish sometimes eludes us. But with the arrival of new just-tugged-from-the-earth real baby carrots on my doorstep - (not the cut and shaped older carrots sold as babies) - came inspiration. 

Let’s get creative with carrots and tease out their natural sweetness and enjoy a gentler crunch!

What flavors sing springtime and perfectly pair with new carrots? 

From my herb garden - thyme, from my pantry - good orange blossom honey, and from my fridge - sweet butter.  Sea salt goes without saying!

Sweet Sautéed Carrots

Place a knob of butter into a skillet and add just a splash of water. 

Clean carrots, no need to peel when they are young, chop off the greens and place them whole into the skillet.

Drizzle on the honey, sprinkle on the thyme leaves and sea salt, and slowly sauté until glazed.  It won’t take long. 

Serve over fresh arugula and toss in a few roasted baby beets.  Spoon on some of the cooking liquid.  Squeeze some citrus juice - (I used ruby red grapefruit) - and season.  Very colorful and flavorful!

To roast beets, wrap each individually with foil, and place on a foil covered baking tray.  Beets will bleed and can create a mess, so the foil helps contain the juices.  Roast in a 350 degree oven for about an hour.  If the beets are very small babies, it should not take so long, maybe 30 minutes.  You can always pierce on of them to see if it is soft but not mushy.

Use honey again with exotic spices, and give your carrots the flavor of North Africa in a simple to prepare, last minute salad.  You may remember grated carrot salad from your childhood but this recipe probably wasn’t it!  This is so much better!  It makes an excellent side dish for grilled seafood or chicken or steamed shrimp, which is what I served it with.

I used spiralized, not grated, carrots because they make such a pretty presentation.  Admit it, many of us have a spiralizer in a cabinet but don’t use it that much and this was a good reason to pull it out of the cupboard.

Spiralized Carrot Salad

Whisk together lemon juice, honey, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Now add golden raisins, chopped almonds and very thinly sliced red onion to the raw carrots in a salad bowl.  Add the vinaigrette and toss.  A few edible nasturtium flowers and leaves add a little bite and a beautiful color.  Paired with some blue borage blossoms, it made a painterly plate!

Roasted Dilly Carrots

Roasting young carrots imparts a warmth to their freshness.  Cut into small sticks and lay on a baking pan.  Add extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, cumin, and fresh dill, and toss together to coat the carrots.  Roast at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.  When they get golden brown around the edges, they are ready.  You don’t want them to get too soft.

Serve on a bed of young greens - (whatever is in season. I used arugula and baby spinach) - and season with more fresh dill.  Add a handful of pistachios and top with Greek yogurt sprinkled with sumac for a slight hint of citrus.

Needing a veggie to serve with chicken Marsala, I looked to Marcella Hazan, the undisputed maven of Italian cooking.  Her recipe in “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” takes time and attention but oh, is it good! 

Braised Carrots with Parmesan Cheese

1 1/2 pounds carrots
4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Peel the carrots, wash them in cold water, and slice them into 3/8 inch disks.  The thin tapered ends can be cut thicker.  Choose a sauté pan that can contain the carrot rounds spread in a single snug layer, without overlapping.  Put in the carrots and butter, and enough water to come 1/4 inch up the sides.  If you do not have a single pan large enough, use two smaller ones, dividing the carrots and butter equally between them.  Turn on the heat to medium.  Do not cover the pan.

Cook until the water has evaporated, then add salt and the 1/4 teaspoon sugar.  Continue cooking, adding 2 to 3 tablespoons of water as needed.  Your objective is to end up with well-browned, wrinkled carrots disks, concentrated in flavor and texture.  It will take between 1 and 1 1/2 hours, during which time you must watch them, even while you do other things in the kitchen.  Stop adding water when they begin to reach the wrinkled, browned stage, because there must be no liquid left at the end.   In 30 minutes or a little more, the carrots will become so reduced in bulk that, if you have been using two pans, you will be able to combine them in a single pan.

When done - they should be very tender - add the grated Parmesan, turn the carrots over completely once or twice, transfer them to a warm platter, and serve at once.

The carrots can be finished entirely in advance, except for the Parmesan, which you will add only when reheating, just before serving.

And now, back to the beginning - pureed carrots!

Simple Carrot Puree

Steam equal parts carrot and russet potatoes until very tender.

In food processor, puree carrots and potatoes until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle with minced parsley before serving.

comments powered by Disqus