Last week, I stopped by our Wednesday farmers’ market to see what looked good and what might become inspiration for our weekend meals. It was the carrots and sweet potatoes that caught my eye. Fresh, bright orange carrots, just pulled out of the ground have a crunch and sweetness that makes their distant, plastic-bagged cousins seem completely unrelated. The carrots I bought last week came from Johnson’s Backyard Garden, and it was an enormous and gorgeous bunch of carrots. I remembered reading about a carrot puree and eventually found it in Sunday Suppers at Lucques. That puree was part of a meal including harissa-spiced fish and gingered beets, and Suzanne Goin wrote that it was all inspired by carrots. She once had an abundance of fresh and delicious carrots and came up with this meal to highlight them. That sounded pretty perfect since I was in a similar carrot situation.
In the book, the dish is prepared with snapper fillets, but as I stood before the fish counter last weekend, the rock fish had a shinier and happier look about it. I went with the rock fish, and regarding sustainability issues, rock fish and snapper rate about the same. However, I’m kicking myself now that I realize I could have purchased snapper from a local source at the Saturday farmers’ market. Next time. The first step in preparing this meal was making harissa. Dried ancho chiles were rehydrated, cumin seeds were toasted and crushed, and canned tomatoes were cooked until reduced. All of those items were added to a food processor along with garlic, hot smoked paprika, cayenne, vinegar, and salt and pepper. Once pureed, it was harissa. Remember those sweet potatoes I mentioned? For another meal, they were made into oven fries and served with some of this harissa, and that was an excellent pairing. For this meal, the harissa was coated onto the fish which was left to marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours. Meanwhile, the beets were roasted, and the carrots were chopped. With such fresh carrots, I don’t actually peel them. I wash them and pull off any root fibers, but leave as much of each carrot intact as possible. The carrots were steamed with some cilantro stems while chopped onion was sauteed. The steamed carrots were added to the onion and allowed to caramelize a bit before that mixture was pureed with olive oil. The roasted beets were skinned and then tossed with a vinaigrette of shallot, jalapeno, garlic, ginger, mint, cilantro, lime juice, and olive oil. The fish was to have been grilled, but I pan-sauteed it instead.
There are times when a vegetable puree can be reminiscent of baby food, but this wasn’t one of them. The sauteed onion and caramelization added depth, and the hint of cilantro and olive oil prevented the puree from being too sweet. The earthy beets in vinaigrette were a bright and tangy contrasting flavor to that of the puree. And, the main attraction, the fish, was the star of the meal. The harissa had flavored the fish well, but since most of it was scraped away before cooking, what remained was subtle, smoky savoriness. This was one of those meals that I couldn’t believe I had whipped up in my own kitchen and that it was so easy. I love going out for great restaurant meals, but I’m always delighted when a meal seems that good at home.