Carrots with Fennel

Today my farm stand had carrots that were so plump and fresh that I decided to feature them on their own as a side dish, rather than as a mere background element of another dish. 

Fennel seeds have a strong, perfumey flavor that is perhaps best known as the predominant flavor in Italian sausage.  I like to use them in sweet dishes as well as savory ones.  The fennel seeds in this dish transform the sweet carrots into something exotic and complex.  I also add a pinch of nutmeg for additional aroma.

Carrots can be roasted to sweet, wrinkly softness, but tonight I wanted them to be moist and delicate, rather than smokey and dessicated from roasting. 

They always seem to disappear from the table no matter how many I make, therefore I usually figure on 2 bunches of carrots per 3 persons.  This dish can be started about an hour ahead, partially cooked, then caramelized at the last minute prior to serving. 

The cooking method is simple–carrots, oil, water and fennel are placed in a cold skillet, then brought up to temperature on low heat, covered.  There is just enough water to steam the carrots, then evaporate.  The remaining oil becomes sweet and orange and creates a natural caramelization medium without any sugar necessary.

Our meal tonight is turkey meatloaf, mashed potatoes (always a good idea with meatloaf), carrots with fennel, and brussels sprouts with caramized shallots (see below).

Carrots with Fennel

serves 4

3 bunches carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal

3 tbls olive oil

1/4 c water

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp salt (maybe more)

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/8 tsp nutmeg

Place all ingredients in an unheated, broad skillet.

Cover and place on low heat for about 10 minutes, until carrots have begun to soften and water is almost evaporated.  Carrots may be set aside at this point and held for about a half-hour prior to serving.  Simply turn off heat.  When ready to serve, uncover, raise heat to medium-high and saute until carrots are tender and lightly golden.

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