Rachel Roddy's favourite way with carrots – recipe – The Guardian
I turn to my favourite trio of cooks for ideas for the Christmas carrots, and the answer is unanimous: Italian legend Ada Boni’s method of braising them in butter with marsala
AAA: a standard-size dry battery cell, backstage pass I hope for, Australian Archaeological Association, Japanese rock band, morse code for aerial attacker, and a trio of food writers, Ada, Anna, Anna.
Ada is Ada Boni, the Roman gastronomist, magazine editor and author of several books, most famously the 1925 Il Talismano della Felicità. Boni hoped that her The Talisman of Happiness, a collection of 882 recipes (which was later expanded), would both preserve culinary traditions and teach, although she didn’t see recipes as things to be followed slavishly; rather, as infinite creative possibilities – which, for me, is the beauty of the book. Anna Gosetti della Salda’s volume of regional recipes, Le Ricette Regionali Italiane, on the other hand, can feel more prescriptive, which is much to do with the encyclopaedic nature of the book. Although this passes when you realise that the succinct nature of a recipe can be liberating, like being given just enough advice and told to jump in.
While both books are famous for their autonomy, I think they are even better in company, and especially in that of Anna del Conte, who translates and communicates the recipes and lessons in both (and many others) delightfully and wisely. And nowhere more than in the anthology of her work, Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes, which is divided by ingredient.
This week, carrots! I asked all three – Ada, Anna and Anna – what I should do with carrots at Christmas, and the answer was unanimous: braise them in plenty of butter with liquid (which I will come to shortly) until they shine. But before you do, a word about age. Mature is better. Detailed research by Hans Platenius, a research instructor at the Department of Vegetable Crops in New York in 1934, showed that sweetness in carrots is controlled primarily by the amount of sucrose they contain, which increases as they age, meaning so, too, does their sweetness. Thanks to ongoing and extensive research in my fridge, I have tested this theory on many occasions, and can confirm that the old, wrinkly, bendy carrot with a black tip is almost always the sweetest, and that oversized carrots do improve with age. What’s more, doing the first five months of storage in a cool place, carrots will actually increase their vitamin A content. Neglecting carrots, it seems, is a good thing.
As well as flavour, sweetness and vitamin A, as Jane Grigson reminds us in her Vegetable Book, there is another advantage of maturity: resilience, such as braising in stock or, for an even richer and more celebratory dish, in a glass of amber marsala.
Anna (del Conte) notes that this, Ada’s way, is one of the best ways to cook carrots. And I agree – it brings out the best in them, while allowing them to remain themselves. Like AAA, while they stand alone, carrots cooked this way are even better with others: cabbage and chestnuts, spring greens and bacon, or roast potatoes and parsnips, a stuffed bird or pumpkin – whatever is in the middle of your table.
Salt and black pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 heaped tsp flour
200ml dry marsala, or 300ml vegetable or light chicken stock
1 tbsp minced parsley
Peel the carrots and trim the tips and tails. There are two options for cutting: slice them into 3mm-thick discs or cut into batons, in which case cut into 5cm-long chunks, then cut each chunk into batons.
In a deep frying or saute pan, melt the butter on a medium heat and add the carrots, salt, pepper and sugar, and cook, stirring, for three minutes. Sprinkle over the flour, stir, then pour in the marsala and 100ml water (or use 300ml stock instead), which should just cover the carrots.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, cover the pan and cook for 15-25 minutes, lifting the lid to stir every now and then, and adding a little more liquid if you think it needs it. By the end of cooking, the carrots should be very tender with a little thick sauce. Add the minced parsley and more black pepper, and serve.
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