Even when you're just going to make a simple vegetable purée, Seattle chef Jason Stratton suggests roasting the vegetable "to bump up the complexity of the flavor."
SOMETIMES THE simplest things in life are the best.
Take, for example, the Carote Nuove — baby carrots roasted with sage — that I enjoyed this summer at Cascina Spinasse. It was our first visit to the 3-year-old Capitol Hill restaurant since chef and partner Jason Stratton expanded the dining room and added a bar — Artusi — at the corner of East Pine and 14th Avenue. All welcoming and bright, it’s the perfect place for a leisurely antipasti plate while sipping a Campari and Soda.
But enough of Spinasse’s exemplary expansion. Back to those crazy-good carrots.
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Our solicitous server that July evening said he’d replicated Carote Nuove at home with good results. After carefully scrubbing and patting the orange nubbins completely dry, he caramelized them in a very hot skillet, doused them with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, then placed them in a 450-degree oven until tender. After tossing the baby carrots with a liberal blast of Barolo vinegar, he transferred them to a pretty platter to serve.
Stratton said he adds a clove or two of crushed garlic at the beginning of cooking and several leaves of sage a minute or two before the carrots are just tender. And buy fresh baby carrots from your local farmer’s market, he urges.
Acetorium Barolo Vinegar, a handcrafted, aged vinegar made from Nebbiolo wine, is another key ingredient in Carote Nuove and many other dishes on Stratton’s Piedmontese-based menu. Priced at around $35 for a 250-milliliter bottle, you can buy it at The Shop Agora (on Phinney Ridge, Capitol Hill or online), Pane d’Amore on Bainbridge Island or online from Amazon.com.
Armed with some of Stratton’s secrets for cooking summer vegetables, I checked in to see if he had any tips for working with winter’s bounty.
“Unlike many summer vegetables, where a quick sautéing would yield a delicious side dish, winter vegetables require a bit more time, planning and careful seasoning,” Stratton says. “I love to roast most winter roots for a long time to caramelize their sugars and unlock a real depth of flavor.”
The talented young chef — named one of Food & Wine magazine’s 10 Best New Chefs for 2010 — counts cabbages, chicories, kales and mustards, cauliflower, turnips, pumpkins and hard squash, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips and celeriac among his favorite winter veggies.
Specific spices and herbs are key to cooking this time of year.
“I adore sage and often turn to it as a natural accompaniment for many winter veggies,” Stratton says. “The piney scent of rosemary works particularly well, also.”
Stratton adds whole rosemary leaves late in the cooking process to avoid burning them, or slowly sautés the leaves in olive oil to release their flavor.
Sweet baking spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, and savory spices such as coriander add big flavors to winter veggies, too.
Even when you’re just going to make a simple vegetable purée (as in the recipe here), Stratton suggests roasting the vegetable (as opposed to boiling it) “to bump up the complexity of the flavor.”
Stratton was inspired to create Roasted Cauliflower Spread — a hummus-type dip that substitutes cauliflower for the more traditional chickpea base — when he worked alongside Jerry Traunfeld at the James Beard award-winning chef’s Capitol Hill restaurant, Poppy.
“We were thinking about something to accompany naan,” says Stratton of the Indian flat bread. “I was particularly just loving the nuttiness that happens to roasted cauliflower, and cauliflower’s natural affinity with cumin. I was thinking about what vegetable could somehow mimic the creaminess of hummus.”
Stratton’s favorite way to eat the spread is slathered on a thick slab of toasted bread rubbed with garlic and dripping with oil.
“It’s very comforting,” he says.
Braiden Rex-Johnson is a Seattle-based cookbook author, food and wine columnist and blogger. Visit her online at www.WithBraiden.com. John Lok is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
Roasted Cauliflower Spread with Cumin
Makes about 3 cups
1 large head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 6 cups)
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted (See Cook’s Hint, below)
Pita wedges, toasted bread slices and/or raw vegetables (crudités), for dipping
1. Put the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
2. In a large mixing bowl, toss the cauliflower pieces with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the cumin and the salt until the pieces are lightly but thoroughly coated.
3. Arrange the cauliflower over the prepared baking sheet in one layer without crowding. Roast the cauliflower, stirring once or twice, 35 to 45 minutes, or until lightly browned and very tender.
4. Carefully transfer the roasted cauliflower to a food processor and add the lemon juice and the sesame seeds. Pulse, while drizzling in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, until almost smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil if needed.
5. Spoon the cauliflower spread into a serving bowl and serve with warm pita wedges, toasted bread slices and/or raw vegetables.
Cook’s Hint: To toast the sesame seeds, heat them in a small, dry skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, or until they begin to turn light brown and/or give off their aroma, shaking the pan back and forth often so they don’t burn. Remove from the heat and cool.
— recipe from chef Jason Stratton, Cascina Spinasse