Carrots are more versatile than you think.
Upon seeing a bunch of carrots, most people probably think about eating them raw, often while saying "What's up, Doc?" From there, most folks' thoughts go to dipping them into something such as ranch dressing, mayonnaise or hummus. And that's pretty much the extent of it, except for occasional wistful thoughts of carrot cake.
But carrots can be baked, sauteed, glazed, pureed, pickled and turned into ice cream.
That's right, ice cream. Why not? Though they are savory, they can also be quite sweet. Besides, they are such a gorgeous color, who could resist? Just add a little cream and a little sugar, freeze it, and it would be perfect, right?
As it turns out, it was a little more complicated than that. I didn't just want to make carrot ice cream, I wanted to make ice cream that tasted like carrot cake. That meant boosting the flavor of the ingredients, so I decided to start with a custard base instead of a thinner cream base.
Using a Food Network recipe as my guide, I made a custard with five egg yolks (the original recipe called for nine, which tasted ridiculously eggy), cream and half-and-half. I left out the orange peel in the original recipe because I was going for the carrot-cake effect, and I added lemon juice to make the flavor brighter. Then I studded the ice cream with raisins kept plump and sweet by a method suggested by Jeni Britton Bauer, of Jeni's ice cream.
This ice cream turns out to be worldly, sophisticated and elegant. Not bad for a root that grows in the ground.
One personal favorite use of carrots is in carrot soup. Though it is simple to make, the process of cooking and pureeing it makes it taste very different from raw carrots. It's like the grown-up version of carrots. Besides, with such a gorgeous color, who can resist?
An effort to make carrot soup had turned out to be a disappointment, bland and punchless, so I decided to take that recipe and make it better. The original had depended on reduced white wine to intensify the taste of the carrots, but I decided to go a more traditional route and cook the new batch with curry powder. Just a teaspoon was all it needed (and even then it had a spicy kick; use less if you don't like your food hot). And because I always like to pair cumin with curry, I added just a quarter-teaspoon of it, too.
The result? Bliss. Velvety-smooth bliss.
I next decided to try a side dish that went beyond the typical buttered carrot slices or even carrot slices glazed with butter and maple syrup. Too sweet, I thought. I wanted to make a dish that would play up the vegetable's savory side. The butter was necessary, I knew, but something with an edge to it, perhaps even a little bitterness, would make the dish one to serve to company or even at a party. Besides, it would have such a gorgeous color, who could resist?
The flavors that meld together in Allison Fishman's recipe for Israeli carrots are surprisingly complex -- and also just plain surprising. Garlic with carrots? Sure, that will work. Dill pairs well with carrots, too, but you wouldn't think of using both it and garlic. And then you'd have to be a nut to also throw in a handful of chopped cilantro, particularly if you are moistening it all with orange juice and olive oil. And cumin? Who would add cumin to such a thing?
The resulting dish is actually quite extraordinary, with the tender-crisp carrots coated with ambrosial flavors. Don't tell your guests what is in it; just serve it to them. They will be very, very happy. And so will you, because it is quick and easy to make.
Finally, I decided to make a kugel, a baked pudding side dish that is usually made with noodles but can also be made with carrots. Carrots, of course, give it a gorgeous color -- who could resist? -- but the real beauty of this dish is the light browning and puffy appearance that comes from baking what is technically a batter. When it comes out of the oven, it looks almost like angel food cake.
That's typically what you get when you fold a large amount of whipped egg whites into a small amount of flour, but this kugel is richer because it also uses the yolks. And it is healthier because it also includes grated carrots and apples, and it has a more complex and satisfying flavor because it incorporates a splash of red wine and a dash of lemon juice, along with a pinch of lemon peel.
How does it taste? Like a carrot-scented cloud.
CARROT CAKE ICE CREAM
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup PLUS 1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups carrot slices
2 cups half-and-half
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 cinnamon stick
5 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
Put the raisins in a small, heatproof bowl. Combine the 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon water and sugar in a small pan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the syrup over the raisins and allow to cool to room temperature. Drain the syrup and refrigerate raisins to chill.
In a small saucepan, boil the carrot slices in water until very tender. Drain carrots and puree in a food processor.
In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the half-and-half, cream, vanilla and cinnamon stick, whisking occasionally to make sure the mixture doesn't burn or stick to the bottom of the pan. When the mixture starts to bubble (don't let it boil), turn off the heat and let the flavors infuse for 10 minutes.
While the flavors blend, place a couple of handfuls of ice in a large bowl and fill partway with cold water. Rest a smaller bowl in the ice water.
Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. In a thin stream, whisk half of the cream mixture into the egg-yolk mixture. Then pour the egg-cream mixture back into the saucepan containing the rest of the cream mixture. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon (figure-8s work well). Cook gently, stirring, until temperature reaches 180 degrees. For those not using a thermometer: The mixture will suddenly thicken slightly until it is about the texture of eggnog. Test to see if it is ready by dipping the wooden spoon into the mixture, then drawing your finger across it. If you leave a stripe, it is ready. Do not overcook. Quickly remove the mixture from the heat and pour it through a fine-mesh strainer into the bowl resting in the ice water.
Stir in the reserved carrot puree and the lemon juice, mixing well. Refrigerate the mixture for three hours before freezing it according to the directions of your ice-cream maker. Stir in 3/4 cup raisins while transferring from ice-cream maker to a container; the remaining raisins may be kept refrigerated for two weeks. When serving, top with chopped pecans.
Yield: About 1-1/2 quarts
-- Adapted from Food Network and "Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home," by Jeni Britton Bauer
CURRIED CARROT SOUP
1 pound carrots
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon curry powder (see cook's note)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 quart chicken stock OR vegetable stock
Cook's note: This makes a soup that is moderately spicy. If you want it less hot, use less curry powder.
Peel the carrots and cut them into pieces of roughly the same size, about 1/2 inch to 1 inch thick, depending on diameter. In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat the butter over medium-low heat. Add the carrots, onion and garlic, and cook for 2-3 minutes until the onion is slightly translucent, stirring more or less constantly. Add the curry powder and cumin, cook for 30 seconds, and then add the stock. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer 15 minutes until the carrots can easily be pierced with a knife.
Remove from heat and puree in a blender, working in batches if necessary. Season to taste with salt.
Yield: About 1-1/2 quarts
-- Adapted from The Chef's Garden
2 quarts water
1 pound baby carrots, halved lengthwise
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add carrots and cook 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain.
Put garlic in a food processor and pulse 3 times or until finely chopped. Add cilantro; pulse 3 times or until combined. Add dill and remaining ingredients; pulse 3 times or until well combined. Spoon dill mixture over carrots; toss gently to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 8 servings
-- Cooking Light magazine, by Allison Fishman
1 cup grated raw carrot (tightly packed)
1/4 cup sugar (see cook's note)
1/4 cup shredded apple
1/4 cup red wine
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 egg whites, room temperature
Cook's note: If you want it sweeter, use 1/2 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease or spray a large casserole.
Combine well the carrots, sugar, apple, wine, yolks, flour, lemon peel and lemon juice. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and gently but thoroughly fold into the carrot mixture. Turn the mixture out into the prepared casserole and bake 35 minutes or until done. Serve hot or cold.
Yield: 6 servings
-- Adapted from Cooks.com.