Spaghetti with agrodolce carrots

Do you have any idea how long it takes you to grate a carrot?

It’s not a competition or anything, but it takes me about 40 seconds to peel and grate one large carrot by hand. If I’m using the grating attachment on my food processor, this task takes about about 15 seconds, but that does’t account for getting the machine set up (or cleaning it afterwards). Not bad eh?

I’ve been thinking deeply about grated carrot recently after seeing a tweet from a high-up in the horticultural world that said packaged grated carrot was ‘flying off the shelves’ in New Zealand supermarkets. You read that right. People apparently prefer to pay nearly four times as much for pre-grated carrot rather than spending less than two minutes doing it themselves at home. A 250g packet of grated carrot (wrapped in plastic) will cost you about $2 – the same as a kilo of whole carrots (that you can put straight into your non-plastic bag).

To me, this is a very bad sign. Is the ability to buy pre-grated carrot a new status symbol? 

I know we should be pleased that people are eating grated carrot (I suspect this is the Nadia Lim effect), but shouldn’t we also be concerned that priorities are getting seriously out of whack? I get that life can be full-on and fraught, but are you really ever too busy to grate a carrot? 

I might be old-fashioned but I believe that being able to operate a traditional box grater without shredding your knuckles is a key life skill for every member of your household. It’s a companionable task that can be done while chatting to the main cook, thereby assisting them to get on with the rest of the meal a bit faster. Who knows, it might even give you more time to chat over dinner later?

SPAGHETTI WITH AGRO-DOLCE CARROTS

Serves 4

Agrodolce might sound like a kind of pesticide, but it’s an Italian term that roughly translates as sweet and sour. If you’re using a food processor to grate the carrot, do yourself a favour and use it to chop the onion, garlic and parsley too.

  • 1 cup raisins
  • ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 4-5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • A large pinch of salt
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and grated
  • A handful fresh flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 450g dried spaghetti

Pour the vinegar over the raisins. Add a splash of boiling water, stir and set aside.

Heat 4Tbsp of the olive oil in a large, heavy pan. Add the onions, garlic and salt. Saute gently for 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and starting to colour. Add the carrot and cook, stirring, for another 3-4 minutes. Add the raisins and their soaking liquid. Toss through and continue cooking until the carrots are soft (just another minute or two). Remove from the heat.

While the onions are cooking, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente (about 9 minutes). Drain well, reserving about ⅓ cup of the cooking water. Return the carrots pan to the heat and add the spaghetti, the reserved cooking water and the parsley, tossing well to combine. Season well with lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Divide between four warmed waiting bowls and serve immediately. Eat with freshly grated pecorino romano or another hard cheese (not pre-grated, if you please) as you wish.

Fancy more ways to utilise your newfound (or refound) grating skills? You might like this classic French Carrot Salad, or my Ultimate Carrot Cake.

Black Doris plum and coconut clafoutis

How familiar are you with the collected works of Enid Blyton? If you’re considering choosing the English writing powerhouse as a Mastermind topic, I’d think again. She churned out hundreds and hundreds of books, short stories and other pieces during her lifetime – that’s a lot of Faraway Trees, Naughtiest Girls and Famous Fives, among others. Wikipedia says she’s the seventh-best-selling fiction author of all time, with an estimated 600 million copies sold. (In case you still want to refresh your memory, the Enid Blyton Society should be able to answer your every query.)

Black Doris clafoutis

Many of her works seem hopelessly outdated now, reflecting the morals (and quite frankly, sexist and racist attitudes) of another time, but they still capture children’s imaginations with their adult-free adventures. Most recently I’ve been reacquainting myself with the boarding school stories (the St Clares’ and Malory Towers series’), in which midnight feasts, pranks and being sent to Coventry all feature frequently.

The midnight feasts all involve secret stashes of tinned goodies like condensed milk, pineapple and sardines (sometimes eaten together, such is the desperate creativity of the boarding school pupil) and bottles of ‘pop’. I’m not sure I could stay awake long enough for a midnight feast these days but if I was planning one based on tinned food I’d make sure to include Black Doris plums. Can’t you imagine slurping them down with a splash of condensed milk, perhaps with a slice of ginger cake from Janet’s aunt?

If your tastes are somewhat more adult and respectable, you might like to try the plums in this pudding. A clafoutis is a simple French pudding, traditionally made with cherries. I won’t tell them that we’re bending the rules if you don’t.

BLACK DORIS PLUM AND COCONUT CLAFOUTIS

It should go without saying that any leftovers are delicious cold for breakfast. If you like, reserve the syrup and heat it up to pour over the finished pudding when serving.

  • 1 x 800g tin Black Doris plums, drained and stones removed
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 cup coconut cream (I use the Ayam brand, which comes in a 270g tin)
  • 50g white chocolate, roughly chopped (optional)
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Heat the oven to 180C. Grease a shallow ovenproof dish (like a 25cm enamel pie plate) and set aside.

Put the eggs, vanilla, sugar, flour and coconut cream in a bowl. Whisk until smooth and pour into the prepared dish. Push the plums down into the batter and scatter over the white chocolate (if using).

Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and set in the middle. Leave for five minutes, then dust with icing sugar and serve in wedges with a dollop of coconut yoghurt or cream.

Blackcurrant quinoa porridge

How do you define a superfood? The venerable Oxford Dictionary says it’s “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being”. Whether you buy into the superpowers of so-called superfoods is a matter of personal choice and/or susceptibility to clever marketing. I think there’s also room in your daily diet for things that make you feel super-happy, or that you just really enjoy eating. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a superfood can be all those things.

Take blackcurrants, for instance. The small-but-mighty blackcurrant, with its powerful burst of tart, purple juice, has superfood status thanks to its high levels of vitamin C and calcium. Blackcurrant skins also contain impressive levels of antioxidants. Recent studies point to blackcurrants having beneficial impacts on mental and physical health (a brand of New Zealand blackcurrant powder is also endorsed by several athletes, who claim it boosts their recovery time and performance).

Now, not being either a scientist or an athlete, I can’t say with any certainty that blackcurrants are the answer to all your problems. But I can promise you that this blackcurrant quinoa porridge is a nutrient-rich breakfast that will set you up for whatever the day may throw at you. And if you top it with a blob of creme fraiche or mascarpone, you’ll definitely be on to a winner.

A bowl of dark purple quinoa and blackcurrant porridge topped with a blob of creme fraiche.

Blackcurrant and quinoa porridge

You might think you don’t have time to cook something for 10 minutes in the morning, but it’s all a matter of perspective and planning. What I do, when time is short, is set this up on the stove and then attend to some other task (like having a shower, or getting cross at a politician being interviewed on the radio, or making a school lunch). It’s multi-tasking, but at a very gentle level. Just don’t go off to work and forget that you’ve got something cooking on the stove!

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed under cold running water

1 cup water

3/4 – 1 cup milk (dairy or not, as you choose)

1 tsp natural vanilla extract

1/2 cup frozen blackcurrants

Put the quinoa and water in a small pot set over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the quinoa ‘tails’ are visible. Stir in the milk, vanilla and blackcurrants and cook over low heat for another five minutes, until the mixture is thick and porridge-like. Divide between two bowls and top with a dollop of cream, creme fraiche, mascarpone or Greek yoghurt. Serves 2.

If you’re interested in New Zealand quinoa, check out this story (excuse shameless self-promo) about The New Zealand Quinoa Company, who are growing and harvesting quinoa in Taranaki.