The carrot is taken for granted, used as a nose for frosty, and in general, underappreciated. Today, we are giving this versatile root vegetable a makeover, dressing it up for a possible appearance on the holiday table or as an exciting side for any dinner. Although this member of the parsley family is often presented in plastic bags, there is huge benefit to buying them young and tender with the lacy green foliage still intact. First of all, the greens tell you how fresh they are. Look for vibrant color with leaves that are bright, moist and alive. The best carrots, with the sweetest flavor, are young and slender. As they mature, they can become woody and unappealing, serving best as a flavor base for soups or stews. If the plan is to give them a starring role, however, it is well worth the effort to seek out the younger sibling, complete with the tops as nature intended. There is yet another bonus when buying the greens, they are completely edible. A great substitute for parsley in any dish, they can also stand alone as a condiment when made into pesto. As good as they are, I would be remiss not to mention removing them from the root as quickly as possible after purchasing as they can rob the root of moisture and vitamins. Storing the greens in a separate bag wrapped in a damp paper towel will help in retaining their freshness.
For this recipe, I roasted the carrots, coaxing out their natural sugars that caramelize and add sweetness. I topped them with a pesto from the greens adding a salty, garlicky, herbaceous punch and then topped them with the creaminess of the Burrata. If you are finding yourself asking, Burrata? Let me explain.
Burrata (boor-RAH-tah) is an Italian creation. It is a cheese made when the cheesemaker uses the stretched curd of mozzarella to form a bag which is filled with bits of unspun mozzarella and cream. The pouch is twisted closed and dipped in brine which is how it is often presented. The cream thickens inside the bag which produces a soft, rich center with a milky quality that oozes out when cut. Simply stated, mozzarella with a prize inside, think Cracker Jack.
Most Burrata comes from Italy but I am fortunate to live in “America’s Dairyland” where many artisan cheesemakers reside and produce amazing cheeses. This product used to be found only in specialty shops but now because of the increased production in the United States, it is more widely available. According to some, this cow’s milk creation may have been born as a means of using the scraps leftover in the making of mozzarella. The Italians hate waste so I think this is very possible.
Carrots seem to be experiencing a renaissance, evidenced by their increased appearance on restaurant menus. Here is how it went down in my kitchen.
ROASTED CARROTS w/ CARROT TOP PESTO AND BURRATA Serves 4-6 as a side
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
- 20 small carrots with tops , peeled, all but 1/2-inch of the tops removed and reserved
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon of Maldon or another flaky sea salt
- 1/2 pound room-temperature Burrata, drained (you can cut them or leave them whole)
- About 3 tablespoons Carrot Top Pesto (recipe featured on my blog-Jan 2012 )
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 475 degrees F.
- Pour 2T of oil onto a large rimmed baking sheet (big enough to lay them in a single layer) and toss carrots to coat.
- Place them in the oven and roast, turning about every 5 minutes, for 18-20 minutes or until they are evenly tender and browned in spots.
- Remove from oven and place them on a platter, alternating directions. Sprinkle lightly with the salt. Add the pesto in small dollops.
- If leaving Burrata whole, cut an X on top of each one and place them on the platter with the carrots. Place a dollop of pesto in the middle of each X. If cutting in half or bite sized pieces, place on platter with a dollop of pesto.
- Drizzle the carrots and cheese with remaining oil. Sprinkle cheese lightly with flaked sea salt before serving.
You can decide for yourself, but I think if you plan for each person to have their own Burrata, it allows all diners to discover the prize discreetly hidden in the center. Ignore your Mother’s rule, “stop playing with your food.” Eating should be a fun adventure.
The combination of flavors, sweet, salty, creamy, make this dish a delight to your taste buds but the colors promise to enhance the visual on any dining table, regardless of the occasion. However you dress them, rediscover carrots and keep spreading the love, one beautiful dish at a time. Until next time, I send my love and leave you with this quote.
” One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Virginia Woolf