Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rabbit food

I said some rude things about carrots a couple of weeks ago -- not carrots in general, just one particular bag of them, but still I'm worried that their feelings were hurt.  So let me set the record straight.

If I had to choose my favorite vegetable, carrots would sure be on the short list.  A carrot is one of those perfect packages of good stuff, nutritious and delicious.  It requires no preparation (other than to wash it, and cut or bite off the stem end) and no seasoning.  It's portable and won't make a mess if you eat it in the car or at your computer or sewing machine.

I'll often eat a couple of carrots for lunch, or afternoon snack, or even breakfast.  Add a piece of buttered toast and you have a whole meal!

When I was a kid, carrots were a major part of my mother's food repertoire.  Most frequently, they were served in advance of dinner.  When the rest of us would start whining that we were hungry, and the food wasn't ready yet, Mom would issue carrots to everybody to be eaten in the living room.  Not only did that mean one less thing to serve at the table, the carrots kept everybody satisfied and quiet and bought her another 15 minutes before dinner had to be served.

Sometimes Mom would fix grated carrots, which had no additional ingredients.  We'd make them on a big box grater and eat them in little dishes with spoons.  The carrots were so juicy that you could eat each mouthful in two parts -- first squeeze the juice with your tongue and slurp it down, then chew and swallow the solid bits.

These days I have adapted those delicious grated carrots to my more technologically advanced kitchen and my more sophisticated food tastes.  I chop them up in the Cuisinart and add olive oil, lemon juice, grated ginger, and maybe some parsley and call it carrot salad.  It's highly regarded enough in our family to make it onto the Thanksgiving table.

With the raw carrot so close to perfection, you might wonder why anybody would ever want to cook it.  And I generally don't, but here's a nifty way to do it if you need to.

Cut up the carrots into some sort of uniform slices, juliennes, coins or other pieces, or use baby carrots out of the bag.  Put a quarter cup or so of orange juice in a skillet and add as big a hunk of butter as you think your diet will permit.

Add the carrots, bring it to a boil, then turn down and simmer for a while, tasting every now and then. If you think of it, you could add a bit of spice such as cardamom, nutmeg, ginger (dried or fresh/grated) or black pepper, stirring it into the juice.

You can cook the carrots till they're very soft, or leave them al dente. Eventually the orange juice will cook away, leaving a syrupy glaze in the pan. If the rest of the dinner is ready before the orange juice has cooked down, remove the carrots to a dish, turn the heat up high and stir attentively while it reduces.

If you're feeling fancy, deglaze with Marsala wine and pour the sauce over the carrots.  If you're in a hurry, just scrape up the syrupy stuff with a spatula and put it over the carrots.

PS -- you can cook parsnips the same way, except they really need to be cooked toward the soft end of the spectrum.  Or have parsnips and carrots together.

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