I'm not generally very creative about the veg that is part of the meat-and-two-veg equation. Potatoes get roasted or baked - occasionally steamed if they are young and very special. Carrots get steamed. Courgettes and aubergines (zucchini and eggplant) are most often sliced and grilled on my cast iron grill pan. And sweet corn, in this land so many thousands of miles from the Midwest, sadly comes from a can. And when you've said that it really doesn't matter what you do with it afterwards.
So last night when I was roasting a chicken for the Critic and our friend Sam (free range chicken with a lemon and 3/4 a head of garlic stuffed inside, roast potatoes) I looked at the slightly tired carrots in our refrigerator and thought "Not steamed again. Must. Think. Of. Something. Else."
And I remembered how - many years ago when I was starting to find my feet culinarily - I liked to roast pork with carrots and onions around it. The carrots often turned out a bit dry and woody, but the way they caramelized was tasty and the idea was good. So I decided to take the leeks from the back of the fridge and try to keep the sweet caramel of the carrots while not losing their moisture. Braising seemed the logical solution.
Definition of braising according to the Food Lover's Companion:
"A cooking method by which food (usually meat or vegetables) is first browned in fat, then cooked, tightly covered, in a small amount of liquid at low heat for a lengthy period of time."
The result is that you have sweet flavour which comes from the browning and the tender juiciness of steaming in a small amount of liquid (preferably not just plain water).
Braised carrots and leeks with courgettes or zucchini if you prefer
4-6 carrots, not necessarily the young tender ones
3 leeks, ditto
3-4 tbs butter
1 glass wine
1 courgette or zucchini if you prefer.
Peel the carrots (unless you are wasting young tender ones on this, but it's the end of the winter here). Cut them in thick chunks. Melt the butter in a deep frying pan until it froths. Add the carrots. Clean and chop the leeks in chunks about the same size as the carrots. Be patient and let the carrots sit in the butter until they start to brown. You don't want to burn the butter, but it's okay to keep the heat high enough for the butter to turn nutty brown. That's how you want the carrots to turn. Add the leeks when the carrots are just starting to brown. You'll need to be a bit more careful with the leeks - if they brown too much they will taste bitter. When everything is starting to smell lovely and a little sweet, add the glass of wine and a sprinkling of salt. Give the pan a shake and cover it tightly. Leave the pan, well covered, on a low heat for 20-25 minutes. At about the 15 minute mark, you can add the courgette, chopped in large hunks. In the end you should have sweet tender vegetables and a thick sweet and salty wine sauce. A lovely accompaniment to roast chicken.
Note on the photos (or lack thereof): I am cursed in the area of photos tonight. I would have liked to take a photo of the carrots and leeks but the battery died on my camera. "No matter," I thought tonight, "I'll write about an earlier dish for which I've already taken photos." But I couldn't upload the photos. (Barrett, I'll be sending you the error message...)