Digging Carrots

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by Eugenia Bone

For years I was trapped in the mentality that carrots’ primary role in my kitchen was as part of the tripod upon which many Italian dishes stand: carrots, onions, and garlic. These aromatics are known as a battuto (which can include other ingredients as well, like celery and parsley; once cooked, the combo is called a soffritto). But then my local farmer’s market started selling beautiful carrots, bound by a piece of twine and topped with a head of feathery greens that cooked up impossibly tender and sweet, hardly the working horse carrots that I used to buy in the grocery store. It didn’t take long for me to move beyond the notion that carrots were supporting players in the kitchen and realize that they can, and should be, the stars. And not just the root but also the glorious greens as well.

Carrots were cultivated as long ago as the 8th century B.C., in Babylon, but Alan Davidson, author of the Oxford Companion to Food guesses they were cultivated not for the root but for the herby greens. (It is member of the parsley family.) Which is ironic, because today, most people toss the greens. Not only are carrot greens edible, they’re delicious.

When buying carrots with their greens look for bright, moist leaves. Avoid carrots that are rubbery or wrinkly. They should be very firm and smooth (bumpy is okay). Small, immature carrots are less flavorful than mature carrots, but slender, young carrots are best. Since, like beet greens, carrot greens pull moisture from the root, as soon as I get them in the kitchen I separate the greens from the root. The greens can be processed into Carrot Pesto right away, to be served with a piece of grilled meat, poultry, or fish, and the carrots stored in a plastic bag in the fridge (but away from apples, which emit a chemical that can cause off flavors in the carrots). If your carrots get soft or limp you can resuscitate them in cold water; and remove the cores of the old ones, which can be tough.

Lately I have been braising carrots in a little homemade chicken or vegetable stock, white wine, and butter, which is divine, and making an addicting marinara sauce that is super sweet because of all the carrots in it. Indeed, carrots are excellent in desserty recipes. I make a sweet and sour carrot jam that is fantastic on a mozzarella sandwich, and often add shredded carrots to muffin batters for flavor and texture.

And that’s just getting started. I pressure can carrots to have on hand for quick soufflés, make clean tasting slaws with shredded carrots and feta cheese, cook veal stew with nubby “Paris Market” cultivars that are the same size as the hunks of meat, whip up creamy carrot soup, and of course, every once in a while, a glorious carrot cake, redolent with the spices carrots love: ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Now, when I go to the market I don’t buy carrots to make dinner.

I buy carrots to be dinner.  


carrot-marinara-sauceCarrot-Sweet Marinara Sauce

This is the best marinara sauce: It has a soft consistency, is naturally sweet, and foolproof. Plus it only takes about 30 minutes to make. The sauce freezes well. Makes 4 cups

¼ cup olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
4 cups fresh or canned tomatoes that have been pushed through a food mill to remove skin and seeds
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, and garlic. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomato puree and cook for 15 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling. Do not overboil or the sauce will get too thick. Turn down the heat if you have to.

Push the sauce through a food mill or puree the vegetables in a blender or with an immersion blender.

Return the sauce to the heat, add the basil and oregano, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the herbs become fragrant, another 15 minutes. Add the butter, stir until it is melted, and serve.


carrots-braised-horizontal

Braised Carrots

This recipe is adapted from Mallmann On Fire, (Artisan, 2014), one of my favorite cookbooks from last year. Save the greens for Carrot Top Pesto (below). Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds young carrots, trimmed, leaving a bit of the green, washed
3 cups vegetable or meat stock (homemade is always best)
1 cup dry white wine
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
6 black peppercorns
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil for garnish

Heat the oven to 375°F.

If some carrots are thicker than others, then halve them so they will cook evenly. Lay them in a single layer in a small roasting pan. Add the stock, wine, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns and sprinkle with salt to taste. Cover with foil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the carrots are very tender. Transfer the carrots to a serving dish and keep warm.

With the back of a fork crush the garlic and thyme into the cooking liquid. Set the roasting pan over medium heat for a minute or two, stirring to concentrate the flavor; adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and strain.

Spoon the liquid over the carrots, drizzle with oil and serve.


Carrot Jam

This recipe is adapted from Putting Food By. I’ve altered the flavorings to make the jam less spicy. Carrot jam is wonderful with cheeses and great on a mozzarella sandwich. I macerate the carrots overnight in the fridge, which helps shorten the cooking time, though you don’t have to. Save the greens for Carrot Top Pesto (below). Makes 2 half-pints

1 pound carrots, coarsely grated (about 2½ cups)
1½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
8 whole cloves
½ cup water
Pinch of grated nutmeg

In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pan, stir together the carrots, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Tie up the whole spices in a piece of cheesecloth and add to the carrots. (You can put the spices in loose, but you will need to fish them out before canning, so if you do, count those cloves!) Cover and let rest in the fridge to macerate overnight.

The next day, add the water and nutmeg to the carrot mixture. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil the jam, stirring often to prevent scorching, until the syrup has mostly evaporated and is thickened and orange, and the carrots are glossy, 20 to 30 minutes. If you boil the carrots too long they will become gluey. It’s not the end of the world. Go ahead and process them, but loosen them up a bit with some warm water before serving.

Have ready 2 clean half-pint jars and bands, and new lids that have been simmered in hot water to soften the rubberized flange. Remove the spices, then pour the carrot mixture into the jars leaving ¼ inch of headroom. Wipe the rims, place on the lids, and screw on the bands fingertip tight.

Process the jars in a water bath for 10 minutes at sea level. Process the jars for an additional 1 minute for every 1,000 feet altitude. Remove from the water, let the jars rest for 24 hours, and then check the seals. Store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.


Carrot Top Pesto

I’ve never bought carrots without the greens since I discovered how to make this (you have to blanch the greens first or the pesto is too grassy). Be sure you separate the greens as soon as you get them home as they pull moisture out of the carrots. Save the carrot stems for stock. Makes about ½ cup

Greens from 1 medium bunch of carrots
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
Squirt of fresh lemon juice
Salt

Pull the feathery leaves off the stems. You should have about 2 loosely packed cups of leaves. Bring a small pot of water to a boil and drop in the carrot leaves. Cook for 1 or 2 minutes to blanch, and then drain. The greens will reduce to about 1/2 cup.

Transfer the greens to a food processer or blender and add the oil, pine nuts, garlic cloves, lemon juice, and salt to taste. Blend to a puree. Refrigerate the pesto for up to a week (it does ferment) or freeze.


carrot-top-pestoFlank Steak with Carrot Top Pesto

This is a simple, fabulous dinner: I just have to buy steak, carrots with the greens, and some fresh thyme. The other stuff I usually have on hand. I like to marinate the steak in the morning or the night before, but if you only get in 1 hour of marinating, that’s fine, too. You can substitute skirt steak for the flank steak if you’d like. This is great accompanied by Braised Carrots (above). Serves 4

1½ pounds flank steak
3 tablespoons olive oil
Small bunch of fresh thyme
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
Juice from ½ lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons safflower oil
Carrot Top Pesto (above)

Pound the steak with a mallet to tenderize.

Place the steak, olive oil, thyme, garlic, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste in a sturdy plastic food storage bag and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.

About 1 hour before you are ready to start cooking, take the bag out of the fridge and let the meat come to room temperature.

In a grill pan or heavy skillet, heat the safflower oil over high heat. Remove the steak from the bag. Don’t worry if there is garlic or thyme stuck to it. Place in the pan and cook for about 10 minutes, searing both sides, for medium-rare.

Remove the meat and let it rest for 5 minutes. Slice the meat against the grain and on an angle, and serve with the carrot pesto. You can serve this dish at room temperature or warm, both are good.


Carrots And Eye Sight

The reason why it is said that carrots are good for your eyes is based on World War II propaganda released by the British Royal Air Force which published a story saying that one of its fighter pilots could see so well in the dark due to his diet of carrots. Eating carrots won’t cure your myopia but they do contain beta-carotene (it’s what colors carrots orange), which we metabolized into vitamin A, an important nutrient for eye health.

Equivalencies

1 pound of fresh carrots, or 5 to 7 medium-sized carrots, equals about 2 cups of shredded or sliced carrots. Since there is little shrinkage, 2 cups of shredded carrots equals about 2 cups of cooked carrots. One 6-inch carrot produces about 70 ml of juice.

Carrot Preserving

Carrots have a pH between 5.88 and 6.40, way too alkaline for water bath processing unless you acidify. But honestly, there is nothing you can’t do with carrots. They make great pickles, which you can process in a water bath. You can preserve them in water in a pressure canner. You can freeze carrots by peeling and blanching in boiling water for 2 to 5 minutes depending on whether you are freezing pieces or whole carrots, and then pack into freezer bags. You can root cellar carrots (don’t wash: remove the greens but leave a stub a couple of inches long and pack in straw or moist sand). At 32ºF they will keep for about 6 months. And you can dry carrots. Boil for 4 minutes, and then dry at 135°F in your dehydrator until brittle.

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