Tuesday, November 17, 2009

unlocking the carrot

"I know of no other preparation in the Italian repertory, or in other cuisines for that matter, more successful than this one in freeing the rich flavor that is locked inside the carrot." A bold claim, to be sure. But if you're Marcella Hazan, maven of Italian cuisine, you know you have the goods to back it up.

Alas, there's no secret ingredient, or trick to her technique. The real art to this preparation is patience: one and a half hours of quiet observation (and quality control) as the homely carrot round transforms into something buttery, caramelized, and f--ing delicious.

This next recipe, adapted from Tony Maws of Craigie on Maine, is less authentically carrot-y, perhaps, but uniquely boozy and wonderful. Carrots emerge from the pan rich and perfumy, with a deep garnet-red glaze.


Braised Carrots with Parmesan Cheese
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

It's hard to think of ways to improve on this recipe. Next time, I might experiment with some combination of chicken stock and water, to see if that will tease out some extra richness.

Serves 4

2 pounds carrots
1/3 teaspoon sugar
4-5 tablespoons butter
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. Using one large or two medium saute pans, spread the carrot rounds in a single snug layer, without overlapping. Add the butter, and enough water to come ¼ inch up the sides. Turn on the heat to medium.

Cook until the water has evaporated, then add salt and the ¼ teaspoon sugar. Continue cooking, adding from 2-3 tablespoons water as needed. Your objective is to end up with well-browned, wrinkled carrot disks, concentrated in flavor and texture. It will take about 1 hour, 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 in the end. In about 30 minutes, 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, and transfer them to a warm platter.

Pan-Roasted Carrots in Red Wine
Adapted from Tony Maws

Serves 4

2 pounds of carrots, peeled and sliced

2-3 tablespoons butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup full-bodied red wine

1 cup stock or water

Chopped chives and parsley

Saute carrots in butter, salt and pepper until slightly brown—about 10 minutes—or until the juices are released, stirring occasionally.

Add red wine and stir to combine pan juices and goodies. Cook until liquid is reduced to a syrup consistency. Add stock or water. Cover and continue cooking on very low heat until carrots are tender. If necessary, reduce liquid until thick. Add one tablespoon butter and chopped chives and/or parsley. Test for seasoning.

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