Anatomy of a Taco: Braised Heirloom Baby Carrots & Mushrooms Over Savory Squash Purée

It all started with carrots. Tiny baby carrots that I was about to turn my nose up at the Rittenhouse farmers’ market. Thankfully, Dave Zaback of Z Food Farm saw the face I was making and intervened.

“You wanna get those,” he insisted.

Knowing Dave enough from going to the farmers’ market much more frequently in the last two years, I scooped up a bunch along with two bunches of the more medium sized carrots I had been getting from his stall on Saturdays.

That was sometime around early October. For as long as he had them for the rest of the season, I’d buy as many of those babies as I could.

Now, I’m not referring to the flavorless, pre-peeled nubs that we usually think of when someone says baby carrots.

Haul From Z Food Farm

Haul From Z Food Farm at the Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market.

These are the miniature carrots that end up opposite smears of puree shooting across the arc of a plate like a comet, a garden of edible flowers dusted with powder huddling up next to them. They’re either steamed whole and possibly glazed with just a trace of green stalk left, or lightly sautéed after being sliced somewhat thick with the mandolin for neat, sagittal cuts.

After over an hour in the oven.

After over an hour in the oven.

But, in addition to the cuteness factor, they’re also packed with flavor, with the rationale being, the younger the carrot, the sweeter, the more intense the flavor.

And that’s been my experience with every bunch I’ve gotten from Z Food Farm.

Almost done after braising for over an hour.

Finished on the stove top.

After going through purple heirlooms with a reddish/orange interior earlier in the season, these smaller carrots were a soft orange with gradations of red and purple that blurred together as the carrots braised. The flavor was distinct enough to have me take 4 bags (with some larger yellow ones mixed in) in my carry-on up to Boston for Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner.

I had braised a few batches with mushrooms by the time I heard from Chef Jordan Miller on how he uses a simple approach to put out “carrots on steroids”.

“I juice carrots so I’m cooking the carrots in carrot juice and then blending it together so it’s as carroty as carrots could possibly get,” he said, during an interview about his approach in the kitchen for the now open Heirloom in Dewes, Delaware.

SquashIt sounded great, but I wasn’t buying a juicer. So, I took carrot greens and made an impromptu stock with whatever I had lying around (dill I wasn’t getting to, some onions that I needed to use, etc.).

After boiling one batch of carrots, the boiling liquid was right where I wanted it—almost as if I had juiced some carrots.
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