My grandmother, who I’ve talked about quite a lot on this site, passed away this week just a few days before her 97th birthday. She was an inspiration to me in almost every way that affects this blog: canning, gardening, cooking, and even just appreciating the delight of fresh, homegrown food. She always insisted that the best recipes were the simplest ones, and that “modern recipes” just had too many unnecessary ingredients. I frequently watched her shake her head and scoff at magazine recipes bedazzled with so many obscure herbs and spices that you’d hardly be able to taste the feature of the dish (let alone afford to make it). Since she was renowned for what she could do with food from seed to table, I usually find it’s best to heed the advice she seemed to live by: grow food, buy fresh, cook simply, and savor the resulting meal.
To honor my grandmother, I want to share with you some of the simple, basic recipes that I rely upon heavily in my daily cooking. I admit, I feel both ridiculous for sharing them and also ridiculous for keeping them from you for so long. Sometimes it’s hard to decide what to share here in this space, and I often think, “nah, they don’t wanna hear about this, it’s nothing fancy.”
But then I remember that many of these dishes have entered my kitchen in only the last few years: why should I assume that they are already in yours? It seems unfair to keep them to myself. Plus, while I’m sure we all love the idea of elaborate culinary projects resulting in surprising and impressive dishes, my guess is that most of you (like me) are ultimately just trying to put dinner on the table every night without relying on a microwave dinner or a frozen pizza. For me, having an repertoire composed of simple, savory dishes is the key to making this happen.
This is one of my favorite side dishes both in flavor and style, it goes well with just about anything, and it starts and ends with a bunch of carrots. Though many of us get our carrots mostly in the form of stripped-down nubbins that appear on veggie platters at office parties, this dish uses the whole thing. For this particular dish, I like to use the thinnest carrots I can find.
In fact, I don’t even peel my carrots anymore. Like a potato or an apple, the skin of a carrot contains a higher concentration of nutrients than the rest of the flesh. A bit of strong scrubbing is usually all I need to get nice, clean carrots, and by not peeling, less food is wasted.
Aside from the carrots, you’ll only need two other ingredients: a bit of butter for cooking, and a tablespoon of brown sugar for glazing. A little goes a long way: the sweetness of the carrots will emerge as they cook, and the brown sugar bumps it up just enough to lend a truly remarkable flavor. As usual, I favor dark brown sugar, which contains more molasses and a darker, deeper flavor.
At the very last minute, when the other elements of your meal are ready, add the sugar. If you cook it too long, the sugar will burn and your carrots will taste, well, burned. I usually toss the carrots around in the sugar just enough to let it dissolve before removing the carrots to a serving platter or straight onto dinner plates.
These carrots go with well with just about anything. I’ve cooked them alongside steak, roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, and my personal favorite, pork chops. I make them often for just the two of us, but I’d stand proudly behind them at a dinner party, as well. They are best enjoyed while they are still hot, but trust me, they won’t last on your plate long enough to get cold.
Glazed Whole Carrots
Makes 2-3 side dish servings
10-12 whole carrots, the thinnest ones you can find
1 1/2 T unsalted butter
1 T dark brown sugar
Thoroughly scrub the carrots and chop off the stem end and the spindly root. If you can, avoid peeling the carrots. Heat a large flying pan over medium heat and add butter. Once the butter has melted and is bubbling, add the carrots. Cook for about 20 minutes, turning the carrots every few minutes so they cook on all sides. The carrots will begin to blister and char slightly.
Turn off the heat and add the brown sugar. Toss the carrots around in the sugar until they are evenly and lightly coated and the sugar has dissolved in the pan. Don’t keep them in the pan for too long at this point or the sugar may begin to burn and will give your carrots a bitter flavor. Remove carrots from the pan and place on a serving dish or directly onto dinner plates.