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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Doldrums A period of stagnation or slump. A period of depression or unhappy listlessness So says the dictionary.

This time of year seems to have this atmosphere. Although I am aware that in some parts of the country January, February and March have more exciting weather than we do. In southern California mostly it is pretty blah. When we have what I call “real weather” it is not a good thing. Right now the calendar says it’s Spring. Really. officially a couple of days ago.

As relates to food, these months are also pretty uninteresting. I don’t have to try to impress anyone as chefs in restaurants do, but I do try to cook with what’s in season. Perhaps impressing myself is inspiration enough and I do become more inspired by seasonal produce. In midsummer when I walk through the farmer’s market and see stacks of ripe tomatoes I can’t help wanting to do something like a tomato tart or confit or as my friend Alice says,, just have big slices of ripe tomato on bread with mayonnaise. And then there are figs to have with good cheese, and fresh peas, asparagus…well, I could go on and on. But this time of year, particular creativity is called for.

Soup is always good now but not as interesting to me as other types of dishes like pastas or savory galettes. Luckily recently I did come upon a recipe that did not require any of the lovely produce of summer. What it did have is one of the more basic root vegetables that I could think of – carrots! I do like carrots but tend to think of them as a boring vegetable. We all have had carrots in our childhoods, usually limply overcooked. Yes, Bugs Bunny carried around a carrot which made you think it was special in some way. But the ubiquitousness made it, conversely, not stand out somehow. However, a recent issue of Eating Well tells us that carrots are good for memory, having something called luteolin which they explain is a flavonoid believed to reduce inflammation that can lead to cognitive decline. In these days that we are all trying to be aware of nutritional elements in our food, that would seem to be a plus.

Anyhow I found this recipe somewhere and thought Aha! Something different to do with carrots which are readily available year round and cheap as well as being colorful and good tasting.As for creativity, I think next time I will substitute another of my favorite root vegetables - parsnips - for a portion of the carrots. Could be interesting.
So I tried the recipe as it is, and it was easy and tasted good. What else can we ask for in a dish. Oh yes, Steve liked it too. That’s another thing I ask for. It's very colorful as you might expect with orange carrots.

Pasta with carrots- risotto style
>8 cups Chicken Stock
5 tbsp. butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 lb. gemelli or fusilli (uncooked) *
10 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and diced
1⁄2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Leaves from 4 sprigs parsley, chopped

1. Bring stock to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low to keep stock hot.
2. Melt 4 tbsp. of the butter in a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until they begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add carrots, stir in until coated and then add,uncooked pasta and and cook, stirring often, until pasta is lightly toasted, about 5 minutes.
3. Add 1 cup of the hot stock at a time to the pasta, stirring constantly; wait until almost all the stock has been absorbed before adding more. Continue cooking and adding stock (you may have some stock left over) until pasta is tender but firm to the bite, 10–15 minutes.
4. Remove pot from heat and stir in the remaining 1 tbsp. butter and the parmigiano. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a warm serving dish and garnish with parsley. Serve with more freshly grated parmigiano, if you like.


* I took the opportunity to try some whole grain organic fusilli in this, trusting that the sauce could hold up to a hearty pasta of that sort. It did. With new awareness and availability of this type of “good for you product”, why not?
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