Roasted Carrots with Lemon Pistachio Butter, Pumpernickel, and Dill
I’m getting used to the color brown. Dark brown. There’s no green in these parts yet, but mud has never felt more encouraging considering that all has been so white for so long. Well, more like grey in my urban environment, but regardless the surrounding color palate has been pale and dead. Mud is downright vibrant in comparison. Mud can be stepped on without trepidation: I can run on, jump on, and fall on mud without injury. Mud has reminded me that I have legs.
There’s a small patch of grey, maybe 12 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick, that has lingered, gracing the tiny front yard of a neighbor’s house for the past couple of weeks. A few weeks before that, that ice patch was more like a frozen lake that overtook the yard—you’d never know that there was once life underneath. A good 3 or 4 inches thick at that time, the lake spilled onto the sidewalk and hastened my quick pace every morning this winter. When that patch is gone, I thought, it will be spring. Real spring.
The patch has withstood three 40- or 50-degree weekends in a row, losing maybe a millimeter of its height with each “warm” day. However, Monday mornings have dipped into the single digits and teens and the patch’s legs regained their strength and stamina each week. If I owned that house, I’d have hacked away at the patch by now. I’d have gotten under it with a shovel, broken it into bits, and thrown it down the nearby sewer drain. It would be one opportunity to have power over something that had reduced me to a cold, crotchety, weak woman for many months—that had me swearing I’d leave this place soon.
The idea for this dish came quite out of nowhere. I had visited my mom on her birthday weekend in mid February. For conversation, she asked if I had any ideas for future recipes (I had none) and all of the sudden, I blurted out that I wanted to make a dish of roasted carrots with pistachio butter (somehow spiked with lemon) and pumpernickel and dill “gravel.” Immediately, I knew that it would look like spring—like the earth when green finally does peak through. When the green comes, the brown still remains, dominates even, as New England goes through a funk that the rest of the country calls spring, raining and clearing and raining again until, before you know it, it’s 85 degrees out and humid. How lovely it would be to literally eat spring as it arrived. “That sounds different,” my mom said, as she normally does when I tell her about these things.
For me, pistachios, lemon, dill, and carrots taste of spring. This dish is rich but not overwhelming, silly and borderline fancy-pants but restrained, soft but crunchy but smooth but gritty all at once. And it’s these contrasts, these opposing forces, which make it something I’d like to eat. I would be most likely to serve it as an eye-catching appetizer—if my family got together for Easter, I imagine it being the perfect holiday starter—as it is substantial enough to be a course. However, a couple of carrots and the fixings would be a nice side to roast chicken or white fish. And a more generous serving could even be a vegetarian meal—just add a fat dollop of full-fat Greek yogurt and/or a brightly dressed, lemony lentil salad to the plate perhaps.
The patch disappeared this week. I almost forgot to look out for it, as its melting seemed far off. When the new nothingness caught my eye, I got a little closer to the brown. I searched, rubbing my eyes to readjust my contact lenses. There had to be a bit left. A quarter-size patch. But it was really gone. I took these photos when there was barely any light left in the kitchen. But I can feel the light now, and it’s time to eat spring.
Roasted Carrots with Lemon Pistachio Butter, Pumpernickel, and Dill
Serves 4 as a side dish
My obvious first instinct was to add lemon juice to the pistachio butter to give it flavor. I threw away three batches because the lemon juice turned the butter a most unappetizing brown color. I cannot find anything on the science behind this, and it baffles me because lemon juice usually helps prevent oxidation in things that are green from chlorophyll (pistachios, which are seeds, are one of these things). So don’t substitute lemon juice for the zest. I recommend purchasing pistachios in the shell, as those that are already shelled tend to be exorbitantly expensive (especially if unroasted and unsalted) and slightly less fresh-tasting. Unroasted pistachios in the shell can be hard to find in packages but may be available in bulk bins, and they can certainly be ordered at a good price online. Only add olive oil to the pistachio butter if necessary. It’s OK if your carrots are of different sizes; I like biting into carrots of different textures.
150 grams (1½ cups) shelled raw pistachios
2 tablespoons lemon zest, plus extra for garnishing, plus lemon wedges
1¼ pounds carrots (about 12 carrots), no larger than 1 inch in diameter, peeled, tops trimmed to 1½ inches
2 ounces (about two ½-inch-thick slices from an artisan loaf) pumpernickel bread (preferably day-old), crusts cut into ½-inch or smaller pieces and interior cut into 1-inch pieces
5 teaspoons chopped fresh dill, plus extra for garnishing
1. Remove any papery skins from pistachios that you can easily with your fingers (no problem if they don’t come off), then process pistachios, lemon zest, and heaping ¼ teaspoon salt in food processor until fine powder forms, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl.Continue to process until smooth paste the texture of natural peanut butter forms, scraping down sides and bottom of bowl every 5 minutes, 20 to 40 minutes. (Pistachios have less natural oils than other nuts so this process can take a long time— depending on your pistachios, as long as 40 minutes. Process pistachio butter while you work on other ingredients and give the processor a rest if it seems to be overheating.) Stir in up to 1 teaspoon olive oil to give butter a schmearable consistency.
2. Adjust oven racks to middle and upper-middle positions and heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss carrots with olive oil to coat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread on rimmed baking sheet. (You can line sheet with aluminum foil if you like; do not line with parchment paper.) Cover baking sheet tightly with aluminum foil and roast for 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue to roast until carrots are tender but somewhat toothsome (not mushy) and browned, turning carrots occasionally, 20 to 30 minutes longer.
3. While carrots are roasting, place pumpernickel and 1 tablespoon dill in clean, dry food processor bowl and process until pumpernickel is ground (some pieces should be finely ground and some crust pieces should remain the size of peas). Transfer pumpernickel crumbs to baking sheet and toss with a very light drizzle of olive oil and salt to taste. Bake on upper oven rack until crisp (do not burn), about 10 minutes, tossing crumbs every couple of minutes. Toss warm crumbs with remaining 2 teaspoons dill.
4. Serve carrots with pistachio butter and pumpernickel crumbs, garnishing with extra lemon zest and dill. Serve with lemon wedges.
You do not want to serve the carrots with a thick layer of nut butter, as it is rich and intensely flavorful. A little goes a long way. Lightly brush the butter on the plate like in photo 3 or pile it on more thickly as a bed for the dish as seen in photo 1 and transfer individual servings to separate plates.You can also serve the dish deconstructed and have guests drizzle the desired amount of pistachio butter on their carrots an d sprinkle with pumpernickel crumbs.