Monday, May 15, 2017

Carrots and Peas

Scott Hines' spring menu at B & O American Brasserie introduced me to the concept of smoked carrots. His smoked carrot agnolotti was one of the best dishes I've had in a long time, and I wanted to see if I could replicate those flavors at home.

I don't know what it is with me and carrots. I really didn't like them much at all when I was a kid, ignored them for much of my adult life, but when I hit my 40s, I started to crave them. But I don't want them cloying, I want them interesting. Hines' smoked carrots, like Bobby Flay's charred ones, are interesting. They had a bit of sweetness, sure, but the not-so-subtle smoky thing enhanced the more savory aspects of the vegetable.

Luckily, I have a stovetop smoker. I don't use it very much. Honestly, I forget that I even have it most of the time. It's stupid easy to use, so I loaded it with carrots and some cherry wood chips and let 'er rip.

I'm also lucky to be able to text Chef Hines and ask him how long he smokes his carrots. He not only told me the length of time for smoking, but also that he simmers the smoked carrots in heavy cream until tender, purees them, then adds mascarpone to make the agnolotti filling.

Heavy cream, mascarpone, butter, ricotta salata - the restaurant version of the dish had lots of super-rich ingredients, which one should expect of restaurant food. It's not meant to be eaten every day, tempting though it may be. I didn't want to replicate Chef Hines' entire dish, just the flavor profile, particularly those carrots. So rather than use heavy cream to simmer them, I used chicken stock, and when I made the puree, I added whole milk instead of heavy cream. I also added an onion for body, which helped replace some of the texture that cream might have added.

I did use some of the other elements of the restaurant dish: peas; morel mushrooms; ricotta salata. I already had dried morels and the other two were easy to find at the supermarket. And of course I wasn't going to fuss with making homemade pasta (which I have never done before), so store-bought farfalle worked just fine. Next time I might try pappardelle though.

Overall, I think my experiment was quite successful. The smoked carrots were delicious and something I am going to incorporate into my repertoire. Might even try charring them first next time and then serving them whole. The sauce was flavorful yet light, and all of the elements worked nicely together.

Spring Pasta with Carrots and Peas

1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into chunks, sliced lengthwise if thick
1 medium onion, diced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Chicken or vegetable stock
Whole milk
1 lb farfalle pasta
1/2 lb sugar snap peas, sliced on the bias into thin strips
A handful of dried morel mushrooms, soaked until soft
Ricotta salata

Prepare a stovetop smoker with mesquite or cherry chips according to manufacturer's directions. If you don't own a smoker, you can make your own from items you have around the house. Check out this video for more information. Add the carrots and smoke for 35-40 minutes.

Remove carrots from smoker and add to a sauce pot with 1 cup of vegetable or chicken stock. Simmer until tender, about 15-20 minutes.

While carrots are cooking, saute onion in a tablespoon of olive oil and a big pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper over medium heat, stirring regularly, until they are softened and beginning to brown on the edges, about 10 minutes.

Puree the carrots with their cooking liquid and the onions until smooth. Use additional stock and/or milk to create a thick sauce consistency.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, saving some of the pasta water.

Do a quick blanch of the sugar snaps by putting them in a microwave-safe bowl, covering with plastic, and microwaving for 1 minute. Uncover bowl and set aside. If you make these ahead, cool down with a few ice cubes in the bowl and drain before using.

Drain the mushrooms (save the liquid for another use, like a soup stock). Saute them in butter for a few minutes and set aside.

Toss the pasta with the carrot puree. If the puree seems too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water. Add the sugar snaps and morels just before serving and toss again.

Top with some of the ricotta salata and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

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