A new gardener’s first carrots for Rosh Hashanah
I just harvested my first-ever carrots. In fact, this is my first-ever harvest. It feels monumentally significant, verging on miraculous. You scatter tiny seeds in a long row about half an inch under the earth and a couple of months later you tug gently at a handful of feathery green fronds and out of the loam slides a glorious full-grown vegetable. If that doesn’t warrant a shehecheyanu, I don’t know what does.
It’s traditional to eat a new fruit on the second night of Rosh Hashanah, meaning one that has not yet been eaten this season, and to recite the shehecheyanu prayer giving thanks for the new experience. For me, each sun-and-earth-warmed vegetable that I pull from the ground or pluck from the vine is cause for celebration and gratitude, but there was something about those first carrots that particularly struck me, maybe because unlike the lettuces that had already emerged exuberantly from the earth like green and purple pompoms, my carrots reached their maturity in the privacy of their dark, underground world.
Carrots hold a place of honor at the Rosh Hashanah table — often taking the form of tzimmes, that sweet, slow-cooked stew to which my grandmother added sweet potatoes and prunes. (Yours may have used dried apricots, turnips, beef, or any number of other additions.) The sliced carrots within are a symbol of renewal, and also prosperity. I laughed — but was not surprised — when I searched for details about what connects the carrot to the New Years celebration and found that, as with so many things Jewish, there are myriad intricate explanations involving wordplay, symbolism, and optimism.
In his indispensable “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food,” the great culinary historian Gil Marks explains that “the Yiddish word for carrot is mehren, which is similar to the word ‘multiply/increase,’ so tzimmes represented good wishes for the new year. Also, the shape of sliced carrots in the tzimmes resembled golden coins, auguring a prosperous year.”
Those Talmudic scholars loved a good homonym almost as much as a good omen: In Hebrew, the word for carrot is gezer, which sounds strikingly similar to g’zar, which means “decree.” So another reason we eat carrots is to ward off an evil decree as we ask for repentance and pray for renewal.
To honor and elevate the humble carrots I nurtured from seed, I decided that I would create a fresh, bright dish for my Rosh Hashanah table — one that would allow their sweet, earthy flavor and vivacious color to shine. Out of respect for the earth, I wanted to use as much of each one as possible.
Store-bought carrots don’t always come with their green tops attached, and when they do, the fronds have often lost their luster. Mine were lively and fragrant, so I went in the rather obvious direction of turning them into a pesto. I decided to forego the Parmesan, which would have tasted too familiar, and added pistachios rather than pine nuts. Walnut oil lent the sauce additional nuttiness, and garlic, lemon juice, and salt amped it all up.
The resulting pesto and the pile of carrots from which the greens had been recently separated called out for a recipe. But what? I thought I might make a carrot tart, but a quick online search showed that this was an entirely unoriginal (if really good) idea. I considered some kind of carrot pasta, but pasta didn’t seem particularly festive… until I realized I could make pappardelle ribbons out of the carrots, boil them oh-so-briefly in salted water, then swathe them in the pesto. To give the sauce a little more body, I would add a creamy element. Softened goat cheese came to mind, and it added a lot of flavor, but I ultimately decided to go with mascarpone, because it’s silky and subtle and allows the carrots to remain the star of the show.
I don’t like fussy food, and I worried that this seemed, well, a little fussy. But it was super fast and easy to make, and the results were as beautiful as they were delicious. The dish is delicate; not hearty enough to be a main course. It would make a striking first course or sumptuous side. However you serve this celebration of the carrot and the season, may it help augur in a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.
Carrot “Pappardelle” with Carrot-Top Pesto
Serves 4 as a first course or side dish
1 cup very fresh carrot tops, plus a little more for garnish
1 clove garlic, or more to taste
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup walnut oil
¼ cup pistachio nuts
½ teaspoon salt, plus more for the “pasta” water
Juice of 1 lemon
½ cup mascarpone
1 pound large carrots, peeled and trimmed
Freshly grated black pepper
Bring a large pot of water to the boil.
Meanwhile, make the pesto by adding the first seven ingredients (through lemon juice) to a food processor and blending until smooth, scraping down the sides once or twice. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or garlic if desired.
In a small bowl, add 2 tablespoons of the pesto to the mascarpone, stir to incorporate, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Lay a carrot on a cutting board and run a vegetable peeler down toward the thicker end, applying as much pressure as you need to create long ribbons about an inch wide and thick enough to stay in one piece. When you can’t get any more ribbons out of a carrot, set it aside for salad or snacking. Repeat with the rest of the carrots.
Add about a teaspoon of salt to the boiling water. (As with pasta, you want the water to taste like the sea), then add the carrot ribbons. Cook for 1 minute, then remove with a slotted spoon or small strainer to a wide, shallow bowl and gently pat dry.
Toss the carrots with about a ⅓ cup of the pesto to coat each ribbon. Divide among plates and top each serving with a little of the pesto-mascarpone mixture. (Use a melon baller or similar tool to create pretty rounds if you like.) Garnish with a few pieces of fresh carrot greens, and serve with freshly grated black pepper. Use leftover pesto on pasta, salad, or as a sauce for any type of protein.