So Slim. So Sweet: Summer Carrots

Posted by Marie - July 5th, 2011

While still in the parking lot before I leave the Farmer’s Market I retrieve the carrots from the bottom of the market basket and give them a quick rinse with splash from my water bottle. On the ride home I munch happily marveling at their sweet taste. These carrots don’t compare to the ones I buy in bags during the winter. Short and slender they don’t need to be peeled or trimmed and taste great au natural. But sometimes, when I arrive home, I set out a saucer of Lemon Herb Dressing (from previous blog) and dip the end before each bite. Delicious.

 

Grated, shredded or chopped carrots make a colorful addition to almost any salad. They are splendid in a cold or hot soup, delicious in a simple sauté—I especially like them sautéed with diagonally sliced asparagus– and of course there are always carrot cake, carrot muffins, carrot custard and carrot pudding.

 

Often, before I write about a vegetable, I reach for my dog-eared, much loved, much read and often quoted “Vegetable Book” by the esteemed British writer, Jane Grigson. Ms Grigson never fails to delight me with her prose and provoke me to laughter or a raised eye-brow with her candid comments. She never disappoints.

 

On carrots she launches into a commentary on the beauty of carrot tops in garden landscape and how they were grown in a “small dish of water” in the nursery when she was a child. True, the British have different customs.

 

 

But, it was her suggestion to roast carrots wrapped in foil (much like I like to roast beets) that took me by surprise. Why, surprise, I can’t say. But, I do like the idea. It makes perfect sense, except when you’re in a hurry. The carrots, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with a bit of coarse salt, wrapped in foil and roasted in a 350°F. took 35 minutes. But they were intensely flavored and silken in texture. If you try this method I suggest you test them for doneness— with the tip of a paring knife— after 15 minutes and then at 10 minute intervals.

 

Carrot and Jicama Slaw with Pineapple

  • 4 carrots
  • 1 (1 pound) jicama
  • ½ ripe pineapple (cut lengthwise through the stem end)
  • 2 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced on diagonal
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/3 cup unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup mild tasting olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, grated or crushed
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped dry roasted unsalted peanuts (optional)

 

1. Trim the ends of the jicama and remove the thick outside skin with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Cut into pieces that will fit into the feed tube of a food processor.

 

2. Fit the food processor with the shredding blade and shred the jicama and carrots, emptying out the work bowl into a large salad bowl, as needed. Or, if preferred, shred the jicama and carrots on the largest holes of a box grater-shredder. Chop the pineapple into 1/4 inch pieces. Add the pineapple, scallions and cilantro to the jicama and carrots.

 

3. Whisk the rice vinegar, olive oil, ginger, garlic and salt until blended. Add to the jicama mixture and toss to combine. Sprinkle with peanuts, if using.

 

Makes 6 servings

 

It’s Asparagus Time

Posted by Marie - July 5th, 2011

For me the first sign of spring, in addition to the sweet smell of orange blossoms, are the bundled bunches of bright green asparagus on display at the farmer’s market. Much to my delight, the asparagus seasons lingers on and on. Here it is the past the summer solstice, and bunches of asparagus are still everywhere.

 

My favorite spring/summer dinner is a large platter of freshly harvested, hot cooked asparagus surrounded by steaming tiny red skinned potatoes and hard cooked eggs with creamy yolks cut into quarters. I smother this handsome trio in a dressing of rich buttery olive oil (I am partial to California Olive Ranch Arbequina) whisked with lemon juice, handfuls of dill, mint and parsley and a garlic clove. Heavenly.

 

I mostly buy asparagus at the farmer’s market. Here I am almost certain they have been harvested within the last 24 hours which guarantees their peak of sweetness and flavor. They are often bundled according to their girth: pencil thin, medium-sized and big and fat. They remind me of the three bears: baby, Momma and Poppa. In the spirit of “research” I’ve bought all three sized and compare the tastes. I was surprised to discover the baby, or thin spears, while tender enough to nibble raw, have a “grassy” and quite assertive, but pleasant, taste. The Momma, or medium sized, are tender and moderately flavorful and the Poppa, or big ones, are sweet and juicy. I find I favor the fat ones, especially for this celebratory entrée of asparagus, boiled potatoes and warm hard cooked eggs.

 

To prepare asparagus grasp the end just below the tip in one hand and the stem in the other hand and bend the spear. Where the spear breaks it is most tender. Rather than discarding the stem ends, chop, cook in broth with onion and puree with heavy or sour cream for a dreamy soup.

 

Once the stems are trimmed, if I have time, I soak the asparagus in a bowl of cold water for about 10 minutes before cooking. I cook asparagus a couple of ways. For this entrée I boil enough water in a deep skillet to cover the asparagus, add a pinch of salt and the asparagus and boil, uncovered, until fork tender. Freshly harvested asparagus will be tender in as little as 2 minutes, they could take as long as 5 minutes, depending on their girth. Another easy way to cook asparagus is to roast them in a very hot oven. Turn the oven to 400°F., spread the asparagus on a rimmed sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once, until crisp tender. (If serving the asparagus without the potatoes, eggs and herb dressing, I shave Parmigiano Reggiano on the asparagus and let it melt in the oven for a few minutes.)

 

I used to peel the “scales” from the asparagus stem with a vegetable peeled but, I’ve stopped. I decided life is too short to spend time peeling asparagus. Now I have more time for eating them while they’re still in season.

 

Asparagus, Potatoes and Hard Cooked Eggs with Lemon and Herb Dressing

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½ pounds tiny new or other potatoes
  • 2 bunches (about 1- 1/2 pounds) asparagus, stems trimmed

 

Lemon and Herb Dressing:

  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 handful (about ½ cup packed) dill sprigs with tender stems
  • 1 handful (about ½ cup packed) mint leaves, thick stems discarded
  • 1 small handful (about ¼ cup packed) Italian parsley leaves with tender stems
  • 1 garlic clove, bruised with the side of a knife
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt, or more to taste

 

1. Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Set over medium high heat and heat the water just to boiling. Cover and let it sit off the heat 12 to 15 minutes. Drain the hot water and rinse the eggs with cold water. Crack the shells on the side of the pan to allow the water to seep until the shell. Then roll the egg on a flat surface to break the shell. Carefully peel the shell from the warm egg. Set aside.

 

2. While the eggs are cooking, place the potatoes in a separate saucepan, cover with water and heat to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook the potatoes until fork tender, about minutes. Drain.

 

3. Blend the olive oil, lemon juice, dill, mint, parsley, garlic and salt until the herbs are very finely chopped. Set aside.

 

4. Boil enough water in a deep skillet to cover the asparagus, add a pinch of salt and the asparagus and boil, uncovered, until fork tender, 2 to 5 minutes depending on their girth. Drain.

 

5. Cut the potatoes into halves or cubes. Add half of the dressing and toss to coat. Arrange the dressed potatoes on one side a large platter. Arrange the asparagus next to the potatoes. Quarter the eggs and place them between the potatoes and asparagus. Serve the remaining dressing on the side for each person to add to taste.

 

Make 2 to 4 servings