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As salads go, spring versions tend to be lighter, showcasing baby lettuces or the new harvest of the season. This salad does both, but in an amped up way that nods a bit to the winter right behind us. This one was made by my friend Catie, and it may be my favorite yet.
First in are carrots (go for the thinner, new carrots if you can) and asparagus, roasted until golden, but still crisp, followed by pickled pink beets and shaved fennel. Lots of baby spinach and a big handful of dill add body to the mix. It all comes together with a mustard seed vinaigrette (or rather, a mustard-shallot vinaigrette with coarse ground mustard).
Added bonus is with all those vegetables, it doubles as a salad and a side – which hits a nice note in my book.
When we had this at Catie & Jimmy’s, she served it with herb roasted pork and duck-fat potatoes (crazy-good), but I think it would be equally at home with roast chicken or grilled salmon, on a weeknight or for dinner with friends.
But either way, you may need to finish it off with chocolate-chip bread pudding – she did, and plus, we gotta balance those veggies some how!
Dinner last night was exactly what I needed to get me back here. It was good. No, really f*ing good. Other things I have been making lately have been fine, meh, okay, but not enough to inspire me to download the pictures and write about them.
But then this smoky carrot puree comes and blows me out of the water.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we went to dinner with friends at Nopa (consistently some of the best meals – highly recommended to those visiting SF) and I haven’t been able to get one of the starters out of my head.
It was grilled sardines on toast with a carrot hummus. Out of this world. The carrot when combined with the sardines gave it an almost uni-like quality. Ah-mazing.
I finely decided to give in and try out my own version, and now I am wondering why I waited so long.
Combined with a combination of spices that were subtly sweet, spicy and smoky these carrots became things of dreams. And topped with a quick pan-roasted hake (quite possibly my new favorite fish — it has large flakes and is mild and a barely sweet, similar to black cod), it became the best dinner we could remember having.
So good, it even held up to its original inspiration.
As a quick aside, this puree is also great cold as a dip. I may or may not be munching on the leftovers with sesame rice crackers while typing this. No, I would never resort to snacking between breakfast and lunch.
Smoked Carrot Puree
When buying carrots, I often like to buy bunches that still have their greens – it seems to me as a sign of their freshness (whether true or not).
But when you store them, make sure to remove the tops, as the greens will draw nutrients and moisture away from the carrots. Carrots without the greens will stay fresher and crisper longer.
However, if the carrots you have are young (so the greens aren’t bitter) and organic (pesticide free), there are a couple of fun ways to use the tops, so it doesn’t feel like a total waste. Salads and soups are my favorite, and here are a few more ideas.
Do you use the carrot tops?
After my California trip, I was ready to come home to sunshine, asparagus and English peas… Instead, I was welcomed by rain, temperatures back in the 30ºs and more of the same at the market. Not be a be a total bore and keep mentioning the weather, but this was not quite what I had in mind.
To make the most of it, I decided to make one last winter salad. The hearty grain kind that I can keep in the fridge for a few days, and have it for lunch while we wait out this (please let it be the last) cold-snap.
We know that beets and carrots are a great match, and since they are some of the few things in the produce section that I have yet to tire of, I thought they would make a nice starting point for this salad. I decided to use golden beets, knowing this salad will likely sit refrigerator for a few days, and their color does not bleed the way red beets do. As for the prep, they were roasted and cubed, but I kept the carrots raw – you know, with spring *being here* and all.
Boneless skinless chicken breasts. Not really a whole lot to say there – they just don’t bring much to the table. But, they are practical – they are lean, fast, easy and (relatively) cheap. Not anything to get too excited about, but a realistic dinner for most people many-a-nights.
They are the kind of thing that you keep in your freezer, something to have on hand. They generally aren’t something that goes from store to table in the same day for me. Nope, I’ll save that honor for pork or fish or the whole chicken.
But there are boneless, skinless chicken breast kind of days. Everyone has them. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
This snow storm we are having caused me to have one. Not exactly the kind of weather that makes you want to go to the store. And someone wanted more than the soups and veggies I have been offering of late. Thankfully they defrost quickly – which again, makes them perfect freezer candidates.
The only problem was, I wanted something more than the standard pan sear that they normally get. Something with a bit more umph. I could have cut them thin and pounded them, for a piccata or milanese, but to be honest I didn’t really want to stand over the stove, even if they only take about 2 seconds to cook. I wanted to pop them in the oven and forget…
When I occasionally (ha!) casually (haha!) mention that I miss California, you may think I mean my friends, or my family or even the weather. And while that is very true, what I really miss is my stuff! All my plates and glasses, gadgets and knives. I am obviously getting by just fine here, but NYC apartments don’t have the same kind of space, so anything more than 4 forks and a wooden spoon are tucked away in storage.
But why am I waxing on about this now? Because if I had my cuisinart here, I would make these beet and carrot latkes daily. Not having to use a box grater and have my hands stained red would really increase the frequency of these pancakes on my menus.
They are my perfect food – a bit virtuous (carrots and beets are the stars) and a bit naughty (they are cooked in oil and topped with sour cream after all). They taste familiar but still new, with the earthiness from the beets and sweetness from the carrots, and they can easily replace the bad potato pancakes you may have had all these years.
Is it cold where you are? Fall is most definitely in effect here – and to be honest, for what I am used to, it’s down right winter.
It’s cold, and so all I want are warm, comforting, homey things, like that roasted chicken. I also want soup, and lots of it. And I will likely be eating soup every week until the last snow melts. I have a feeling that comes from my mom. She often had soup on the stove, and in fact her french onion soup and clam chowder where so legendary that the neighbor’s would specially request them.
Having my mom’s recipes and techniques definitely help my soups, but the real secret – the fail-safe thing to have on hand – the only way to make soup restaurant quality - is homemade stock. Think about it, it’s the only way to have complete control. Can you imagine The French Laundry using Swanson’s?
I had every intention to make these. Don’t they look amazing? I even bought the eggplants. Granted, I was going to change the recipe a bit (not because one should do that with anything Smitten Kitchen, but because I like to do dinner a few nights a week meat free, and thought this could be a good one). Switch out the meat for quinoa and mushrooms. But then a few days passed and the mushrooms went into an impromptu chicken dinner and the eggplants needed to be cooked.
Thank goodness for the internet! Seriously – how many cookbook indexes did one have to claw through before when looking for inspiration for a particular ingredient? No thank you!
How often do you cook with new ingredients? Do you try something new all the time or stay with your tried-and-true standbys? I know I regularly go back to the same things – I think I have mastered just about everything you can do with a tomato or zucchini. I switch it up here and there, but it is often because I want to try and recreate something yummy from a restaurant, or try to duplicate a spread in Bon Appétit or Gourmet (sad).
However, farmer’s markets change that.
When perusing the stalls, I am often inspired to try something I have never cooked with before – sometimes things I have never seen or even heard of.
Like this one, that grows almost like a flower…