Have you ever been excited to find carrots at the farmers market or in your CSA share? Have you ever picked up a bunch of carrots by the stems and smiled at the uncombed ponytail of greens? Until a couple of years ago, I would have answered a puzzled no to both questions. Getting excited about carrots would have seemed excessive.
In my mother's kitchen carrots were an important ingredient, but never the protagonists of a dish. They were part of soffritto — the traditional mix of minced onion, carrot and celery gently cooked in olive oil that is the base for a number of Italian dishes — and contributed to flavoring broth. I sometimes stole a piece and snacked on it. That's it. We never had "carrot" anything.
Several things conspired to make me a champion of carrots: freshly harvested carrots in my CSA share and at the farmers market, eating Turkish carrot salad with yogurt after a short visit to the ancient city of Ephesus and being introduced to rainbow carrots, especially the stunning purple ones. Incidentally, our ancestors ate purple, yellow and white carrots. Orange carrots were neither the first cultivated nor the only existing variety, and their predominance is an accident of relatively recent history.
I now have a number of carrot dishes in my repertoire, including my version of said Turkish salad, a pasta dressing and a filling for pierogi. The recipe on this page is for a savory tart. I developed it one day when I had some homemade fromage blanc in the refrigerator and had just read an interesting recipe in La Scienza in Cucina e l'Arte di Mangiare Bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well), the seminal Italian cookbook self-published by Pellegrino Artusi in 1891. The book, which in Italy we call simply "l'Artusi," is still in print and a great read. Here is the entire recipe for pasta matta:
PASTA MATTA (CRAZY DOUGH) It is called crazy not because it is likely to do something mad, but for the simplicity and ease with which it can serve as the necessary dress for a variety of dishes, as you will see.
Sprinkle water and salt in due proportion over the flour and form a dough loaf that can be rolled out wafer thin.
What you will read below is how I applied Artusi's terse instructions to prepare the base of my tart. The carrots can be cooked ahead of time. Once the filling is ready, the tart comes together quickly, making it a good option for guests. And it is pretty. On a foggy day, it looks like the sun missing from our view.
Ingredients and method:
(ounces refer to weight)
For the dough
1 ¾ ounces whole-wheat pastry flour (I recommend locally grown and milled Foisy wheat)
1 ¾ ounces all-purpose flour
1 ¾ ounces (1/4 cup minus 2 teaspoons) lukewarm water
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pinch of fine sea salt
For the filling
12 ounces fresh, organic carrots
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Leaves of several sprigs of fresh thyme
1 ¾ ounces spring onion or red onion, cleaned
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
1/16 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
7 ounces fromage blanc; if the cheese is thick, like Cypress Grove's, use 6 ounces and blend in 2 tablespoons of milk to soften it
In a small bowl stir the dough ingredients with a fork, then empty it onto your work surface and knead until you get a smooth dough that's not sticky at all. Let it rest, well covered (e.g., wrapped in plastic film), for half an hour.
Scrub the carrots well and scrape them with a blade to remove a thin layer of skin. Grate the carrots using the extra-coarse side of a hand grater.
Mince the onion.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet or, if you're using an oil mister, coat the bottom of the skillet well. Add the onion and stir to coat. Add the thyme leaves and stir. After 1 minute, add the grated carrots and stir well to coat. Cook on low heat for a couple of minutes. Cover the skillet and continue cooking, stirring every now and then until the carrots are tender, 10-12 minutes.
Season carrots with salt and pepper and stir. Let cool while you roll the dough.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Lightly dust with flour a piece of parchment paper about 13 inches wide. Working on the parchment paper, roll the dough into an 11-inch-diameter disk.
Add the fromage blanc to the carrots and stir until mixed uniformly. Spread the carrot and cheese on the rolled dough to form an even layer, leaving a 1-inch border of clean dough all around. Fold the uncovered border of dough over the filling and pleat it at regular intervals.
Slide the parchment paper with the assembled tart onto a baking sheet and place it in the oven.
Bake until the top crust is crisp, approximately 30-32 minutes.
Take the tart out of the oven, cut and serve.
Simona Carini also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog