In the Kitchen

Supercharging Carrots: Cooking with Hay

When I worked at Australia’s Bella Vedere restaurant in the Yarra Valley wine region under the famous country chef Gary Cooper, our aim was to use fresh produce from our vegetable garden to create a seasonal menu item daily.

My Supercharged Carrots recipe was inspired by this method. (More on the recipe in just a bit.)

At the restaurant, which closed with Chef Cooper pursuing other projects, our brains functioned alongside the seasons, and we would play with the elements, experimenting with fire, cooking underground or above. (We had a baker’s oven and our sourdough was about seven years old at the time!)

Creating unique dishes every weekend that represented Australia’s Yarra Valley was exciting. We tried different food combinations with fresh produce, goat cheeses and the most amazing Pinot noir that the country offers. The Yering lamb was particularly delicious and tender. It has a distinct flavor from being raised among gum trees. (The lamb has an oily reflection and the scent of eucalyptus.) And of course, there was the local smokehouse that would provide us with the best speck (bacon), which was essential to cook our world-famous rabbit stew.

The limitations of our garden and what we grew challenged us to constantly search for new ways to enjoy our crops.

My Supercharged Carrots recipe draws inspiration from the garden beds where my carrots grow, covered with pea straw.

I figured if my carrots thrive in pea straw, why not cook them in pea straw too? I could maximize the natural flavors of the garden where the carrots and companion produce have been growing over summer and autumn. The carrots will self-steam and create a symphonic flavor with the pea straw. (You can use hay instead. Amazing hay!)

This is a simple and elegant supercharged carotene dish. My grandmother in France would trick me into finishing my carrots by saying that they will make me kind and my tan amazing. I still believe that and now tell my children the same thing. (Whatever it takes to get them to eat their vegetables, right?)

Alright, music is on — free jazz is pumping — so let’s get cooking!!!

Supercharged Carrots

SUPERCHARGED CARROTS

Serves 4-6 (starter/appetizer size)

This can be a side dish with a roast or served as an entrée, main dish or even dessert. Wait until you make the dish. You will then know why it can be a dessert.

Ingredients:

1.5 kg / 3.5 lbs juicing carrots

8-12 medium-size carrots (organic preferably) with skin still on. Carrots are delicious with the skin, and I want to keep all the nutrients in.

100g / 3 ½ oz. butter (real butter only)

80g / 3 oz. goat cheese (fresh curd)

100 ml / ½ cup thickened cream

A few handfuls of pea straw or alfalfa hay

Herbs, pea straw leaves, leaf chicory to garnish (I used radicchio)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 200C / 380F

In a large roasting dish, lay down a good layer of hay so that the base of the dish is fully covered.

Toss medium carrots in bowl with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Place carrots side by side on the bed of hay. Top with hay.

Cover and seal the dish tightly by using a few layers of foil. You need to fold the sides tight to keep the steam inside.

Place the dish in the middle of the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Take the juicing carrots, blend, and extract the juice into a medium saucepan using a fine sieve.

Over medium-low heat, reduce the carrot juice to ¼. The juice will start to thicken and intensify in flavor and color, concentrating the natural sweetness to a natural carrot syrup. Remove saucepan from heat when texture resembles syrup.

In another small saucepan, add your butter and cook it over high heat until it turns brown. When the bubbles stop “singing,” look closely and you will smell a fragrant nutty flavor (we call this “noisette”). That’s when you stop the cooking process. Put the saucepan to the side.

In a bowl, whisk the goats curd and cream together with a dash of lemon juice (optional) and salt/pepper until the mixture forms a peak (whipped cream appearance). Set in the fridge until ready to serve.

Remove your carrots from the oven, put aside, keep it covered.

Add the noisette butter to the hot carrot reduction while whisking really fast.

Taste and adjust your seasoning.

Uncover your carrots, being careful not to burn yourself with the steam.

Wipe the carrots just a little to remove the hay, slice as thick as you want and place on a serving dish.

Add a few spoon drops of goat’s cream, then generously add the carrot reduction sauce on the top of carrots, garnish it like a pro, but don’t forget, this really is a peasant type dish.

Plated Supercharged Carrots

Tip:

Just have fun with your plating, but the more you try hard the less attractive it will look. Instead make it natural, as if leaves and herbs were falling from the sky by gently dropping them on top and around.

Voila: Supercharged Carrots!

Hope you enjoy it, and once again, don’t try too hard. This dish is so simple but when you present it to your guests, they will think you just came out of the French Laundry cooking class with Thomas Keller.

Have fun, always!

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