Though carrots often make it into the Easter feast lineup, I've never understood why. Maybe it's a nod to the Easter bunny.
Typically, we prepare them much as we prepare sweet potatoes (their distant orange cousins) at Thanksgiving — by glazing them and otherwise shovelling on extra sugar. I'm guessing that this is a reaction to the carrot's bright colour, which reminds us of a kid's toy. It's orange. It's fun. On the plate, carrots are more like a candy than a vegetable.
Still, I like carrots and I think I've figured out a way here to redeem them. The trick is not to be waylaid by their colour, but to take advantage of their length and texture. Long, sturdy carrot peels are reminiscent of individual strands of fettuccine. Fine. Let's prepare them as we would, say, a dish of fettuccine Alfredo — by dressing them with a creamy sauce.
Not coincidentally, it's a strategy that also allows the carrot's natural sugars — which are plenty sweet all by themselves — to shine.
You'll want to start with big, long, fat carrots (affectionately referred to by some grocers as "horse carrots"). Just peel off and discard the outermost layer, then continue peeling on all sides until you've reached the woody core. I find it easiest to start at the middle of the carrot and peel down the bottom half, then flip it over and peel the top half. This technique allows you to do the job faster than if you peeled the entire length of the carrot from top to bottom. The cores are too thin and hard to peel. You can munch on them yourself or reserve them for a future stock.
The sauce for this "fettuccine" is quite simple. It's based on Neufchatel, the French cream cheese, which miraculously provides us with the creaminess we crave even though it possesses one-third less fat than most other types of cream cheese — and much less fat than heavy cream, the ingredient that usually puts the cream in creamy pasta.
We counter-balance the carrot's natural sweetness with lemon, both the zest and juice, though lime would work just as well. The walnuts add crunch, nutty taste and some nutrition, but any nut will do: pistachios, almonds, cashews. Just pick your fave.
The carrot fettuccine strands cook up very quickly — inside of 5 minutes — so you'll want to prep them ahead of time, and measure out all the rest of the ingredients as well. Once the fettuccine is cooked, you need to move it out of the pan and onto everyone's plate before the strands go soft. Happily, cooking this dish is simple enough to do at the last minute. And who knows, you may even be able to get your kids to dig into these carrots. They're veggies but they're wearing a fettuccine suit.
LEMONY CARROT "FETTUCCINE" WITH TOASTED WALNUTS
Start to finish: 25 minutes
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 pounds large carrots, peeled, stem ends discarded
1 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth, divided
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
Salt and ground black pepper
2 ounces Neufchatel (low-fat cream cheese)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Heat the oven to 350 F.
In a shallow baking dish, spread the walnuts in an even layer and bake on the oven's middle shelf for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they smell fragrant. Remove and set aside.
Meanwhile, using a swivel blade or a Y-shaped vegetable peeler, peel the carrots into long fettuccine-like strands, discarding the core (or saving it for a snack or a stock).
In a large skillet, combine 1 cup of the chicken broth with the lemon zest, a hefty pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper. Whisk the mixture until the lemon is well distributed.
Cut up the cheese into small pieces and add it to the skillet along with the carrots. Cover the skillet tightly and bring the broth to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the carrots, covered, for 3 minutes. Remove the lid, and stir the carrots gently with tongs to make sure the cheese is well distributed. Cover and simmer, adding the additional broth if the mixture seems dry, for another 1 to 2 minutes, or just until the carrots are tender.
Stir in the lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper. Divide the carrot "fettuccine" between 4 serving plates, then top each portion with a quarter of the toasted walnuts and the chives.
Nutrition information per serving: 200 calories; 120 calories from fat (60 per cent of total calories); 13 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 18 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 12 g sugar; 7 g protein; 330 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."