Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Classic Carrot or "What's up Doc?" moment at the market

Sometimes I find myself inspired by the smallest things… finding an obscure ingredient sends me on a frenzy of recipe searches, seeing some old, obviously ethnic looking lady, pick through a pile of ordinary food stuffs to find a perfect one, makes me want to imitate her wisdom and knowledge when it comes to ingredient picking…  

This time it was simply colors, the way the light hit the vegetable stand, elevating the most ordinary roots to the picture perfect palate of colors…  There were carrots of all shapes and sizes from strange looking purple to pale whites, which looked more like parsley roots.  I really liked to little round orange ones, I think they match my hair the best.

Carrots are the simplest of things.  We don’t give them much thought, too plain to be part of gastronomic greatness.  I recently read an article that said that carrots are not good for bunnies as they are too high in sugar, go figure as it has been a staple of human diet plans since the day of the flood.   Will carrots be exiled to the land of baby food and Bugs Bunnies forever?
Carrots we eat today have very little to do with the wild carrot plant that is estimated to be 10000 years old.  Edible carrot roots originated in the Middle East and were mostly harvested for the medicinal purposes found in the seeds.  And they were not orange… purple mostly, maybe on occasional pale yellow or white… but definitely not the distinctively carrot color we know today.  The orange carrot was cultivated in Europe long after the carrot has spread around the world. And apparently there are many different types of carrots, distinguished not just by their color but by shape and even taste.  Some are sweeter and tenderer than other, some are pleasantly bitter, some stand up to the cooking and some fall apart at the slightest application of heat.  And they are all delicious, and if you are not a rabbit, they are good for you as well.
The most sold vegetable in the United States (are you ready?) is FROZEN medley of peas and carrots.  And if I can sort of understand the frozen peas thing (they are only available for a short period of time in most places and you do have to (Oh, my God!) shell them by hand), I can never understand using the mushy frozen carrots…   The look, texture, smell and the whole experience would send me straight to 1950s and it’s the frozen TV dinner horror (which they still sell because apparently someone is buying this stuff!). 

Since I couldn’t resist buying all color carrots at the market, and had to figure out what to do with them quickly, I had the "What's up Doc?" moment. You know the one where the Bugs Bunny has a revelation in the cartoon?...ok, never mind... 
I decided to change up a retro recipe to contradict everything that we would expect from vintage peas and carrots side dish.  I wanted to elevate the sweetness of the carrot itself, the grassiness of the carrot tops and I just wanted to give this classic a new life.
Caramelized maple carrots with fresh peas.
10 carrots all sizes, colors and shapes ( You should cut the bigger ones and leave the thinner smaller ones whole, the idea is to have them almost the same size so that they cook pretty evenly)
2 cups of fresh shelled peas blanched for 7-10 seconds in salted water and cooled in an ice bath.
A generous handful of carrot top greens blanched and cooled in an ice bath.  You can do it together with the peas.
1 tbs of chopped parsley
1/2 tbs of chopped mint
3 tbs brown sugar
3 tbs maple syrup (Grade B is nice here it has deeper flavor)
3 tbs of butter
1 tsp of sale de gris or another crunchy coarse salt

Rinse and peel the carrots.  Preheat a heavy bottom skillet to medium heat.  Add the brown sugar, maple syrup and 1 tbs of butter.  Stir to combine and cook undisturbed until a thin caramel begins to form.  Add your carrots and toss them in the caramel.  Add ½ of the salt.  Cook a few minutes, adding the rest of the butter, until the carrots just begin to soften, but are still very crunchy and caramel starts to thicken up.  Turn off the heat and let the carrots cool slightly.
Chop the carrot top greens, parsley and mint.  Combine the caramelized carrots, peas and herbs and toss to combine.  Finish with the rest of the coarse salt.  Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

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