|a mush of puréed carrots|
It was years before I realised I liked carrots. I quite liked them as a small child as I enjoyed their sweet crunch. As a teenager I was bored with them - often the only edible ingredient in a school meal. Mmmn, carrots again today. But by the time I was in my 20's I had begun to feel a distinct antagonism. What you may wonder had the poor carrot done to feel my disdain?
It was not the carrot's fault. In those days I didn't eat meat. I wasn't a vegetarian, I just didn't like meat. I didn't like factory farming either. But my decision to forego meat was not out of any crusading zeal, although it was quite fashionable amongst my peers. It was the time of Live Aid and naively we thought it made us better people. But I have to confess it wasn't much of a hardship since I didn't feel as if I was missing out on anything. Except when it came to a good meal out.
It isn't even so long ago that if you went to a restaurant in England and asked for a vegetarian option you would either be sneered at by the waiters or ridiculed by friends and colleagues. I once spent an entire business lunch, where the others riffed for an hour or so on the absurdities of people who didn't eat meat. Although their feeble jokes about how weedy and sickly vegetarians were fell somewhat short of the mark, confronted by the epitome of healthy country wench - that would be me - blonde, pink-cheeked and buxom!
But what would really get my vegetarian goat would be the lack of imagination any food served to me would present. Nothing can troll the depths of the "meal" we were once served at a wedding - we were each given a large slab of processed cheese, a cotton-wool ball of a tomato and a lettuce leaf (just the one). But most meals were not far off and the one thing they all had in common was firstly that they weren't very nice and secondly they were usually stuffed full of carrots.
Not the carrot's fault. It was the paucity of imagination of the cook, who couldn't be bothered and was happy to offload a mountain of carrots because frankly they were cheap.
My damascene moment came a few years ago, when my father, Henry, had taken me out for a birthday lunch at one of London's new gastro pubs. He had ordered lamb. He always does; it is about the only thing about him that is consistent. That and the fact that he will always ask me to taste what he is eating, particularly when he knows I don't like something. He says that he doesn't remember that I don't like "X". This is possible but I think it is more devious. "Go on," he says, "taste it". "No really, Henry, I don't like beetroot, bananas, liver, risotto, sage, carrots . . ." (delete as appropriate). "But darling, just taste it." Eventually I give in, knowing that he takes a simple pleasure in wearing me down. But I suspect the optimist in him thinks that one day, just one day I might say "actually that's delicious".
That moment arrived. I tasted Henry's carrot purée and had a eureka moment. Arse! Feck! Drink! Girls! As Archimedes may have said if he'd been channelling a foul-mouthed, alcholic old priest, in a trendy east London pub.
So if you’re wondering what to serve with your Sunday roast, a carrot purée comes highly recommended. This week I am roasting a shoulder of lamb and it is definitely coming with a mush of carrots. Then I’ll be a happy camper!
Skill level: Easy
450g carrots, roughly chopped
500ml vegetable (or chicken) stock
1 x garlic clove, squashed
1 x bay leaf
1-2 x sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Cook the carrots in the stock together with the garlic clove, bay leaf and fresh thyme, Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes, or until soft.
- Drain the carrots, reserving the liquid. Remove the bay leaf and thyme.
- Roughly mash the carrots with the garlic and butter. You can also strip any remaining leaves from the thyme sprigs and add them to the mash.
- If you want a smooth purée rather than a mash, then blend until smooth.
- If you want a looser purée then add a little of the cooking liquid.
- Gently reheat.
- Check the seasoning and grind over a little nutmeg.
- Add chopped swede to the carrots.
- Replace the thyme leaves with a couple of crushed cardamom pods. Sprinkle with chopped chervil or parsley.
- Add a little cream to the purée.
- Keep the cooking liquid for sauces, soups or gravy. Be aware that it will be quite sweet from cooking the carrots, but very useful and delicious nonetheless!