Braised Carrots & Leeks

Braised Carrots and Leeks

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Last Saturday, the Nauset Regional Middle School auditorium was filled with farmers, gardeners and people who are devoted to organics. The reason: organic farming pioneer Eliot Coleman was giving a talk, and his equally famous wife, Barbara Damrosch was also on hand to sign books and chat afterwards. The event was sponsored by Sustainable CAPE, the amazing group in Truro who have made celebrating local food and education its centerpiece with events like the Truro Agricultural Fair and Farmer-in-the-School Programs.

Coleman is a leader in the movement to grow food year round in Northern climates, and he and Damrosch do so on their 60-acre Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine. His talk was titled, “Nothing is Impossible,” and he listed all of the things that people told him were impossible over the years, beginning with the idea that it is possible to grow food without pesticides or chemicals.

His talk was as much about experimenting and ingenuity as it was about food. He explained how he came up with the idea of growing cold-hearty salad and root crops in unheated greenhouses during the winter months at first by accident and then by design.

“We weren’t so much gardening in the winter as harvesting in the winter,” he said. “All of the plants had to be planted earlier to have healthy root systems.”

His method of growing involves putting wheels on his 30 by 96 foot greenhouses. The mobile greenhouses serve two purposes. First they protect heat loving plants like tomatoes, eggplant and bell peppers through the fall. When the season for those plants end, the greenhouses are moved to protect the root vegetables and greens he planted in late summer.

One of their most popular winter crops is carrots, which just become sweeter in the colder earth.

“They are so tasty that kids call them candy carrots,” he said, prompting one farmer to ask what kind of carrots he plants. You can bet that Mokum carrots from Johnny’s Selected Seeds will be appearing in local gardens like mine this summer.

Coleman believes that farmers should share information with each other, and for over an hour he shared his best tips, best tools and best advice. With each step he has taken on his farm he learned something new and most of his tools are fashioned with things at hand. A cordless drill is the power behind his design for “the tilther,” a small rototiller that only works the top two inches of the soil.

The thinking behind this invention was that weeds rarely germinate from more than two inches deep in the soil. Shallow soil working avoids stirring up dormant weeds that are lying deeper. This bit of information made me appreciate the no till policy at the Brewster Community Garden. The town used to pay someone to rototill every spring, but stopped doing so a few years ago. Individual gardeners are allowed to rototill their plots, as we have always done.

Not anymore. I made huge strides with the weeds on my plot last year, and now I know how to keep them at bay this year.

I also learned why my leeks didn’t thrive last summer. I didn’t plant them deep enough. Coleman devised a leek planting tool from a 10-inch long piece of one-inch plumbing pipe with the end flattened. He then pokes a hole, places the leek seedling in and lets nature fill in around the small hole.

With Coleman’s book, “The Winter Harvest Handbook” in my hand and my head filled with visions of his gorgeous photos of carrots and leeks, I headed to the store to purchase both. This spring vegetable side dish would be lovely on your Easter table.

Braised Carrots and Leeks
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Servings
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Servings
6
Braised Carrots and Leeks
BigOven - Save recipe or add to grocery list
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Servings
6
Servings
6
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large leeks , white and light green parts only
  • 1 medium clove garlic , minced
  • 1 pound carrots , peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 grinds fresh black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon , chopped
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Cut leeks in half horizontally and then slice vertically. Wash them well and dry them for a few minutes before cooking.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet
  3. Add leeks and cook for two minutes.
  4. Add garlic and cook just until fragrance wafts up, about 20 seconds.
  5. Add carrots, chicken stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
  6. Turn heat down to medium low and simmer until carrots are just tender, about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on size.
  7. Add tarragon and remove skillet from burner.
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Carrot soup 1

Curried Carrot Soup

Surprise, surprise, carrots did very well in our garden this year. When I planted them back in May I didn’t have high hopes. In previous years – if I even bothered to plant them – they never flourished. Some years the seeds washed away in torrential late May rainstorms.

Other years I didn’t have an explanation for why they failed to come up. I thought that I might have planted the seeds too deep so I began planting them in the shallowest rows possible, pressing them gently into the earth and then adding just a sprinkle of soil on top and pressing again.

This year there was a good breeze on the day I planted so I was afraid the seeds would blow away. Another gardener at the Brewster Community Garden stopped by and we discussed this possibility. Her best advice was to let them grow wherever they came up. Carrot sprouts have lacy foliage that is easy to recognize – if they come up.

Part of the problem is that carrot seeds are ridiculously small. They are about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. My face was literally almost resting in the dirt as I placed those seeds one by one in the row I made.

The day I planted them is quite vivid in my mind. Our granddaughter Lilia Grace was in the Neonatal Unit at Tufts Medical Center. We didn’t know if she would live or what possible disabilities she would have from the stroke she suffered at birth.

Comfort 3

With every single seedling and seed I placed in the ground, I prayed for health and strength for Lilia and for a dear friend who was having health issues. I would alternate the simple breath prayers between those two people I loved. It was remarkably soothing and took away my frustration. At least I was doing something.

garden 2015

The garden continued to be a place of solace and prayer for me. I spend long hours there this summer: weeding, thinning the carrots and beets, deadheading marigolds and picking beans. The strength of the carrots all lined up in a perfect row amazed me even when they were just sprouts. They grew long and skinny in three different colors: orange, yellow and red. We’ve been eating the small ones I harvest as I thin the plants, but we are finally into true carrot season.

carrots soup 2

Now they are long and fat or short and fat, but they are wonderful in every way. Fresh picked carrots have a very powerful carrot scent and flavor. With that in mind, I decided to make a curried carrot soup to go with the turkey thighs the Kitchen Genius was smoking in the back yard. Since once again we had tons of leftover bread and a bag of apples, sausage and apple stuffing seemed like a perfect accompaniment to his turkey.

Gardening, cooking, and even washing dishes always center me. Our dinner Sunday night offered plenty of all three. We began with a cup of curried carrot soup and baked stuffed clams KG made from his Saturday clamming haul. The smoked turkey was amazing.

Turkey and stuffing are the foods of gratitude and we are full of gratitude these days. At Lilia’s most recent visit to Tufts, the head ultra-sound revealed that the pool of blood covering her brain is gone. It disappeared months before the doctor’s anticipated, so they have moved up her next big testing day that includes an MRI to the day before Thanksgiving.

We are expecting to be very thankful indeed the next day, because all signs are good. She is such a happy baby, but she is also such a champ at her physical therapy at Spaulding in Sandwich. They have pushed her with fabulous results. She now holds her head up high and is working hard and succeeding at sitting up at five months old. She is advanced in many areas, but especially her social skills.

Answer to prayer

Apparently both babies and gardens respond well to prayer.

Curried Carrot Soup
BigOven - Save recipe or add to grocery list
Yum
Print Recipe
Servings
6
Servings
6
Curried Carrot Soup
BigOven - Save recipe or add to grocery list
Yum
Print Recipe
Servings
6
Servings
6
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons organic butter
  • 2 large shallots , finely diced
  • 6 cups carrot slices
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional if you don't like spicy food)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • sour cream (for garnish)
  • 2 scallions (for ganish)
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Place olive oil and butter in a 3 quart Dutch oven over medium heat. When butter melts, add the shallots and sauté them until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the carrots, chicken stock, curry powder, cayenne (if using) and salt. Simmer until carrots are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Puree soup with a hand held immersion blender. To serve, place a dollop of sour cream on top of each bowl and use a knife to pull it into an attractive design. Sprinkle with sliced scallions and enjoy!
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