This article is about rainbow carrots. You know, those packages you buy in the produce department of the market that contain carrots of different colors, usually purple, orange and yellow or white. I may digress, but stay with me.
They look so pretty, and sort of fancy. I bought a two-pound bag at Trader Joe’s in Clifton Park a few weeks ago. They’re not expensive, and the mix of colors adds something. Glamour?
The bag stayed in the vegetable crisper until last week, when I had company for dinner and festive-colored carrots seemed just the thing to go with the salmon en crôute I was making for Friday Night Supper.
It’s hard to find sides to accompany anything en crôute. You’ve already got the starch there, so what can you have besides a vegetable? The vegetable has got to carry half the plate.
But you can’t get carried away with the amount of vegetables because if there’s a salad, then that’s even more vegetables. Then you have to worry about duplicating ingredients.
Puff pastry is fun to play with and I’ve experimented with various proteins in baked pastry, starting with beef tenderloin. Those become individual Beef Wellingtons, which are great when they turn out right but are tricky as anything to judge when they’re done. Even with a thermometer.
The filets cook at a rate I can’t figure out. I weigh them on a kitchen scale and make them the same shape, so therefore they should cook similarly, but don’t always. The small size means there should be little carry-over cooking, but there sometimes is more. There have been enough disappointing medium-well filets that I’ve decided not to make them again, at least for a while.
I’ve done chicken in pastry, also tricky to get right. The chicken won’t fully cook in the time it takes the pastry to bake; it needs to be at least parcooked. And chicken, even with accouterments, in pastry is meh.
But salmon is a star. It cooks in about the same time and at the same temperature as the pastry. If it overcooks you don’t really notice. You’re busy looking at the packets, thinking how nice they look. Also, salmon gets bonus points for its color.
I made it the first time using a recipe that called for spreadable mild herbed cheese and fresh dill. Everyone liked it, but husband Eric thought I could kick it up a notch. A more assertive cheese? I started scrolling through recipes.
Turns out that though the cheese is good, spinach is better. It has it all over the cheese in the color department, and when sautéed with lots of garlic and shallots, and tossed with Parmesan cheese, it adds a lot of flavor.
So I planned my dinner carefully, with the salmon and spinach packets on one side of the plate, a rainbow of color on the other.
The day before, I examined my carrots, and what I saw kept my mind occupied in those moments I couldn’t sleep that night. About half of the carrots were the cool aubergine color; the rest in the bag were orange except for three or four skinny yellow carrots. I kept thinking about them and how they were going to cook, and look, together.
First rule of rainbow carrots: Cook the purple ones separately. Full stop. Just do it, or they’ll all turn out purple and so much for the rainbow. You’re welcome.
The next morning I got to work.
The purple ones were all about the same diameter, about three-quarters of an inch, but there were a few long and very skinny ones, like the rest of the carrots in the bag. I needed at least two pots, one for the purple carrots, the other for the rest. And I needed to cut them all on the bias.
Cutting them on an angle helped even things out. It made the larger carrots into ovals, which were bigger, but the skinny carrots could be as long as the ovals with the ends bias-cut, which made them kind of look, and cook, the same.
The purple carrots turned the water a color deep as Easter-egg dye. I parcooked them, blanched and drained them, and put them into a small bowl. Even with blanching, the color was underwhelming. They looked mahogany, with orange centers.
The rest of the carrots also got blanched and put into a bowl, and I examined them side by side. It was a good thing I also bought broccoli, because ironically, the rainbow carrots could use some color.
All the carrots were salted and buttered and seasoned with fresh thyme. I put them aside and cooked the broccoli until bright green, and that really livened things up. As I usually do, I wrapped the florets in a dish towel to get all the water out, then I put them in a third bowl with butter, salt and thyme.
Just before dinner, I heated each bowl in the microwave, then dumped them into a larger bowl and tossed them together. The purple stayed put.
I made them for the first time last year for Thanksgiving. They are fussy, what with the separate cooking and all, but it was a special occasion. Nobody cared. There was turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes and everything else; nobody wanted carrots, even rainbow ones. Really, neither did I, I thought as I poured some gravy over yet another slice of turkey.
Later, I examined the bag the carrots came in and there was no cooking advice or warning that the purple would bleed. I think the carrot people should at least offer a heads-up.
I served the vegetables next to the salmon packets and they held up their side of the plate nicely. The good news was that in the low light of the dining room, those mahogany carrots looked straight-up purple.
And actually, with salad, the delicious salmon packets and cheesecake for dessert, nobody really seemed to notice the carrots. But there weren’t many left on the plates when all was said and done, so I guess that’s a win.
Caroline Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Troy. Reach her at [email protected]