Spring means it's time to plant peas and carrots

swthompson@herald-leader.comApril 1, 2010 

When Mom told us to eat our peas and carrots, she probably was spooning tiny orange cubes and wrinkled sweet peas onto our childhood plates.

Our grown-up palates prefer garden-fresh peas and carrots, and even though they aren't ready for picking up at farmers markets just yet, we still think of peas and carrots as a springtime mix. They are a perfect combination for our Easter feast.

"For some reason, I get joyful flashbacks of the Easter Bunny and Bugs Bunny whenever I use them," said Jeremy Ashby, executive chef at Azur.

"I absolutely love peas and carrots, especially their classic pairing," he said. "Quite often I will serve them together, but as a conjunction of two different preparations. After blanching my peas in hot salty water to bring out their bright beautiful green color, I will sauté them briefly with thinly sliced shallots and mushrooms (morels if your budget allows) and then add small amounts of cream, unsalted butter and sherry wine."

Ashby allows the mixture to reduce slightly to a sauce-like consistency and finishes the dish with fleur de sel (sea salt) and grated pink peppercorn.

"It makes an amazing creamed-peas recipe. In tandem, I love roasted bunch carrots, the kind with the green tips still attached."

To make those, Ashby typically uses his family's cast-iron skillet, heated with enough extra-virgin olive oil to coat the bottom. He roasts them slowly in the pan, rustling them around from time to time to create a deep caramelized carrot, which he complements with fresh thyme and sea salt.

When the carrots are fork tender in the skillet, he adds a small pat of butter. He allows the butter to melt and become foamy; then he drops in some fresh thyme sprigs and salt.

"I baste the carrots and thyme sprigs with the foamy butter. Try serving the roasted carrots topped with the creamed peas along with some Easter lamb," Ashby said.

In just a few weeks, Central Kentuckians can enjoy fresh peas and carrots from their back-yard gardens or farmers markets. Frozen or canned peas are no comparison to the fresh, farmer Linda McMaine said.

The earliest safe planting date for peas is March 1. They need 60 to 80 days for maturity, so they should come in mid-May and last until mid-June.

"I have grown the snow peas in the past, but I did not really like them as much as the sugar snap," McMaine said. "They did not have the sweetness that the sugar snaps did. Both can be used in stir-fry dishes. The sugar snaps can be cooked as a vegetable in the pod, or if the pods are really full, they can be shelled and cooked like that."

McMaine and her husband, Ron, planted a 32-foot row of sugar snap peas on the first day of spring on their Riverhaven Farm in Salvisa. If the weather permits, McMaine will have the sugar snaps at the Bluegrass Farmers Market on Richmond Road about the middle of May.

Carrots require about 80 to 90 days to mature, so it will be mid-June before fresh carrots arrive at the farmers market. When buying, look for carrots that are well-formed, smooth and firm. Generally speaking, smaller carrots are more tender. The deeper the color, the more vitamin A. Avoid carrots that seem wilted or flabby, or that have many visible cracks.

Fresh, young, tender pea pods should be moist and bright green. They should feel a little fuzzy to the touch and be well filled, end to end, with peas. Peas to be eaten in the pod should be thin.

Try these recipes with your Easter meal.

RECIPES

Morehead marinated carrots

2 pounds carrots, sliced

1 cup tomato soup

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

3/4 cup vinegar

1 tablespoon dry mustard

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the carrots in a small amount of water in a saucepan until tender; drain. Spoon the carrots into a large bowl. Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and mix well. Bring to a boil. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes.

Pour over the carrots. Marinate, covered in the refrigerator, until ready to serve. Serve cold using a slotted spoon. Makes 6 servings.

Source: Pride of Kentucky

Fresh carrot ring with buttered peas and cauliflower

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup fine bread crumbs

4 eggs, separated

3 sticks butter, at room temperature

1 cup light-brown sugar

3 cups (1 pound) finely grated fresh carrots

2 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups flour

3 tablespoons butter

2 cups fresh peas

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 head fresh cauliflower, cut into florets and cooked until tender in salted water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 3-quart ring mold or Bundt pan with the oil. Dust the pan with the bread crumbs. In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with a whip attachment, whip the egg whites on medium-high until stiff. Remove and set aside. In another bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with a paddle, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating until smooth. Add the carrots, milk and lemon juice. Beat well.

Add the salt, baking powder, baking soda and flour. Beat well. Fold in the whipped egg whites. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 1 hour, or until the center is set and the cake springs back from the pan. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes in the pan. Remove from the pan and turn onto a serving platter.

In a sauté pan, over medium heat, melt the 3 tablespoons of butter and cook for about 1 minute, or until the butter starts to turn brown. Add the peas. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and spoon around the carrot ring. Spoon the cauliflower in the center of the ring. Serve warm.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Source: Emeril Lagasse, Food Network

Reach Sharon Thompson at (859) 231-3321 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3321.

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