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The Last of the Winter Storage Vegetables

March 29, 2012

Yeah. So it’s spring. That’s nice. I just saw a picture recently of ramps breaking through the ground somewhere in the Hudson Valley. Which means it’s even an early spring for those of us living in a place with seasons.

Sure, the seasons may not make sense anymore. But don’t try and tell those in denial that this is climate change. I just hope that our local crops aren’t devastated again this year like they were in 2011.

Politics aside, even though it’s spring, there is still nothing new to eat. That’s why at this point having a spring cocktail menu is an exercise in folly. Although I suppose you could have something green and herbaceous like absinthe or chartreuse in addition to flowery mixers, spirits and liqueurs. But I’m veering off track.

What do you eat now that’s seasonal? Well, the last of the winter storage vegetables. Now I promised my temple friends at Gates in Schenectady that I would post a recipe for the dish of carrots and sweet potatoes they all loved. Really, I had thought it was already on the FLB, but I can’t find it anywhere.

Trust me, it’s a lot easier than I make it seem.

The dish is called Sweet Carrot Tzimmes and the fundamentals of the recipe can be found here. But if you follow their instructions, you will not get what I made. You will get something wet, underseasoned and one-dimensional.

Today’s post is as much about this dish as it is about taking a recipe found online and fixing it based on a knowledge of how to build flavor and some basic good-cooking principles.

For those who have never had it, this sweet carrot tzimmes (it’s pronounced kind of like SIM-miss) is a comforting dish of tender vegetables and prunes in a rich citrus-honey-butter sauce with cinnamon. There are many varieties of tzimmes, and a lot of them include meat as well. It’s a very forgiving dish. If you overcook it, it gets mushy, but no less tasty or comforting. And it’s pretty much impossible to undercook.

For the carrots and the sweet potatoes, I do not weigh them out. I go by volume.

Both get peeled and cut into generous mouth-filling chunks. As I peel and cut the vegetables, I place them raw in the baking dish I’ll be using to get a sense of how many more I need. The goal is to get a pretty even balance between sweet potatoes and carrots, but it’s flexible. So if you love carrots, go heavy on the carrots (or vice versa).

Then I bring some water to a boil. The original recipe doesn’t say to salt the water. This is an oversight. Salt the water. Then add a bit more salt, because you probably undersalted the water. This step can either suck flavor out of your dish or enhance its flavor. Do not skip the salt.

Ten minutes in the boiling water is too much. They need to be softened, but not soft. You’ll be cooking the hell out of them soon enough. While the winter roots are boiling, you can both start pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees and grease the baking dish with butter. Let’s hold off on the sauce for right now.

When you can easily pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork, drain the vegetables and add them to the baking dish.

The sauce you will pour over them is one cup of the least nasty store bought orange juice you can find (I use Florida’s Natural), ½ cup honey (I use Lloyd Spear’s raw wildflower), 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and a half-teaspoon of cinnamon (I use Penzeys’). Mix them all together and pour over all the vegetables. Stud a whole heap of dried pitted prunes throughout the vegetables and top with of pats of butter (as many as you can stomach).

The recipe will tell you to cover this with foil before putting it in the oven for thirty minutes. You could do that, but then you’ll just have more work to do later. It keeps all the liquid in the pan, but you are going to want to concentrate that cooking liquid into a gravy. Don’t worry, in 30 minutes the vegetables won’t dry out. They may shrivel a little, but that also concentrates their flavor.

Since I bring this to a potluck, when the vegetables are done in the oven, I transfer them gently with a slotted spoon into the slow cooker to keep warm. The cooking liquid I transfer to a saucepan, to boil down into a thick syrup.

Now here’s a trick I extrapolated from something I once read in Cook’s Illustrated. Cook the sauce down even thicker than you would like. Then add a little more fresh orange juice to thin it out.

This does something amazing.

It both concentrates the flavor of the long cooked juice and then adds a top note of bright citrus flavor too. You want it thick enough to cling to the vegetables, but thin enough to be a sauce and not a glaze. Trust your instincts, and pour it over the dish when it’s ready.

This is a sweet, savory and comforting side dish that is a natural fit for roast chicken or a slow braised brisket. I’ll probably make a big old batch of it for Passover. And I suspect, that if I can work the next Gates potluck into the schedule, I’ll make it for that as well.

Despite all the instruction above, this is super easy, and a great way to eat seasonally now.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 29, 2012 2:39 pm

    You asked originally what winter seasonal vegetables we were using… does cabbage count? I was working through the giant heads from the Saratoga Farmers Market until recently though am currently using some super-cheap stuff I bought at PC before St. Patrick’s Day.

    And what do I make with this cabbage? Cole slaw! Click on my name/avatar and search “cole slaw” on the site for a few recipes.

  2. maltnsmoke permalink
    March 29, 2012 2:50 pm

    I don’t think there are many contending that there is no climate change. In fact, there is an abundance of evidence that climates have always changed, even before the first humanoid or SUV prowled the land. The real debates are over the extent of human influence over such changes and whether or not we can tax and regulate climate change out of existence.

    I remain thankful for the changes that eliminated the glacier that once covered my little slice of NY heaven. Here’s a little wish for an ever expanding growing season.

    • March 29, 2012 3:04 pm

      You evidently aren’t listening to enough local/conservative talk radio.

      • maltnsmoke permalink
        March 29, 2012 4:11 pm

        Are you suggesting that ones evaluation of scientific evidence is or should be a function of ones political outlook?

      • March 29, 2012 4:52 pm

        I must not have made myself clear. All I am saying is that there are indeed people who contend there is no climate change. Some of them even have their own radio show. Others just call in to get on the air.

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