Friday, June 19, 2009
Inspired by Carrots
Lest it should come to be thought that, like a family of otters, we subsist on nothing but a steady diet of stream trout, I offer this simple repast well-rooted in terra firma. With some chicken. To tide us over until I can report on the earth oven pizza.
The star of the show is carrots, the first baby carrots from our garden, unusually early, for us, and sown in an unusual way. Two years ago I planted a little patch of carrots late in the summer, too late, it turned out, to produce usable roots that year. I mulched them well, and many of them survived the winter. In the spring they began to flower; many umbelliferous plants have this biennial habit.
The roots grew as the flower stalks ascended, but when I pulled one I found it had gone woody. I let the carrots go to seed, because the flowers were strange and beautiful, and in hopes of harvesting carrot seeds come fall. Which I did, planning to sow them in the spring, but something wonderful happened before I could.
This spring I pulled all the old plants and weeds (conscientious gardeners do this in the fall; I am lazy) and dug the bed where the carrots had been, intending to put tomatoes there this year. While I waited for the ground to warm to tomato temp, the wonderful thing occured: nearly the entire four-by-eight foot raised bed sprouted with carrots. This was several weeks ago, surely the earliest I've ever had carrots growing. I did plant tomatoes in that bed, as well, and now I'm thinning carrots away from the tomato plants.
Yesterday I harvested a salad spinner's worth of sweet, succulent baby carrots, and we cooked them on the grill with some spring onions from Mee Vue at the market, chicken thighs (Kadejan), and served the lot over couscous with an olive-oil-lemon-herb dressing. Tasted like summer on a warm, humid night.
There's no real recipe here, just a general method:
--We gathered a mess of herbs from the garden: thyme, sage, mint, chives, fennel greens. Lots, you can't have too many.
--We minced a large clove of garlic, and chopped fine the zest of half a lemon.
--We salted and peppered four chicken thighs, added a third of the herbs and garlic, a glug of olive oil, and squeezed on some lemon juice.
--We combined the rest of the herbs, garlic, and lemon zest, drowned them in olive oil, a good half cup, all the juice we could get from the lemon half, good couple pinches salt, and a healthy pinch of piment d'espelette, a ground chili from the Basque region of France.
--When the coals (natural chunk charcoal, please!) were ready we browned the chicken well, then smoke-roasted it (apple wood) for twenty minutes or so, opened the grill and put on the carrots and onions--which had been coated with olive oil and seasoned--to cook until nicely browned and just tender.
--Couscous, two-thirds cup dry is a good amount for two people, you just add the same amount boiling water, cover and let sit fifteen minutes. Fluff, season, serve.
Couscous can be dry, but not when liberally drizzled with the herb-and-olive oil dressing, topped with smoky, crisp-skinned chicken and those wonderful grilled vegetables. I think even an otter might toss aside his trout for a meal like that....
Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw