Some of my best recipes are born out of necessity. Today’s recipe is a perfect example.
A few weeks ago, on an unnaturally warm late-winter day, I decided to poke around my vegetable garden. I hadn’t done so since last December when temperatures had started to dip into the deep-freeze zone.
To my astonishment, I noticed that the carrots I’d never had time to harvest before the ground froze were growing new tops! I gingerly pulled on one and a huge carrot came out of the ground. I pulled on another and the same thing happened. This was nothing short of a miracle. My Danvers carrots had survived an entire winter, and were still growing!
I harvested over 5 pounds of carrots that day and they turned out to be incredibly sweet, snappy – and juicy, even. As I looked through my repertoire of recipes, none seemed to do justice to these beauties. I wanted to make a dish that brought out their deliciousness to the max. Braising them, I thought, would do just that.
So I paired my homegrown carrots with fennel for a soft contrast to their crunch, adding fennel seeds to brighten the flavors of the dish. Then I added orange zest, orange juice and honey to accentuate the marvelous carrot-y essence. I braised the duo to gently allow the flavors to meld, then finished the dish by reducing the pan-juices to glaze the vegetables and lightly pan-roasted them to caramelize the sugars.
This recipe even exceeded my own expectations. It turned out so succulent that it made the taste buds smile!
Carrots and fennel braised with orange zest and honey
active time: 20 min
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey (preferably orange blossom honey)
- 1 1/2 lbs (680 g) carrots – peeled and cut in 1/4″ x 3″ sticks
- 1 fennel bulb – ends trimmed, bulb cut in half, each half cored and cut lengthwise in 1/8″ slices
- 4 strips of orange zest – 1″ x 4″ long (use a vegetable hand-peeler)
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds – crushed in a mortar
- 1/3 cup spring water
- 1/3 cup orange juice
- 1/2 + 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fennel greens or dill
- Step 1: Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. Add the butter, olive oil and honey. Stir well and add the carrots, fennel, orange zest and fennel seeds. Toss until the slices are well coated with the oil. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes until the fennel starts to soften, tossing occasionally. Add the water, orange juice, salt and pepper. Toss quickly and reduce heat to between medium and medium-low. Cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
- Step 2: Uncover the pan. Raise heat to high and fast-simmer until the juices have all evaporated and some of the vegetables are golden-brown, about 6 to 7 minutes, tossing only occasionally so as not to break or mush the vegetables. Remove orange zest, transfer to a serving platter, sprinkle with the fennel greens and serve immediately.
- Cook’s note: The carrots and fennel can be trimmed and cut up to 6 hours ahead and refrigerated until ready to use, but the dish is best made just before it’s served. It does not reheat well.