Sunday, February 20, 2011

Worteltjes or Winterwortelen?

What is a "wortel," you may well ask. It means carrot or root in Dutch, from the same root word (no pun intended) as our English word orchard or ort-yard, which means literally, plant- or root-yard. Think also of St. John's Wort, meaning St. John's plant.

"Tje" is a diminutive in Dutch, such that "brood" (bread) becomes "broodje" (little bread, i.e., roll) and "koek" (gingerbread) becomes "koekje," the origin of our American English word cookie.

So you may have guessed that "worteltjes" means baby carrots, like those pre-washed and pre-peeled small carrots in plastic pouches so commonly found in American supermarkets. "Winterwortelen" or winter carrots are their grown-up relatives  --  larger and longer. I imagine them dozing through the long winters in root cellars in North Holland or Upstate New York a century ago. Now we keep them crisp in the vegetable drawer of our refrigerator.

 It has been said that orange carrots were first cultivated in the Netherlands in the 17th century, when they became popular as a symbol of the House of Orange and the struggle for Dutch independence from Spain. In any case, you may remember from your high school biology class that carrots contain a substantial amount of beta-carotene, which the body metabolizes into Vitamin A, essential for good eyesight. Carrots are also rich in anti-oxidants and fiber, which are both important in fighting cancer.

Grandma Vandenbergh's cookbook contains recipes for both baby carrots and the larger variety shown above. The preparation is basically the same, except that the baby carrots are cooked whole, and the winter carrots are cut into strips or slices and cooked longer that their younger counterparts, presumably because they are older and tougher. Here is my translation of Martine Wittop Koning's recipe for "Winter Wortelen":

Winter Carrots:

- 2 lbs. carrots
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon salt

Scrape (or peel) the carrots, cut them into strips or slices; wash them and set them in enough water that would boil away in one hour. Then toss them with butter; let them stew in the butter until they turn golden brown.

When they have thus cooked, pour them into a serving dish and sprinkle with the finely chopped parsley. (The recipe does not specify, but I imagine you salt the water before cooking the carrots.)

The recipe for baby carrots is much the same, but suggests that it may be easier and preserve more of the vegetable's flavor if you steam the carrots instead of boiling them. And indeed that is my usual method of cooking carrots; it not only preserves more of the flavor, but also more of the nutritional value. The Dutch have a reputation for overcooking their vegetables, so I only cooked mine half as long as the recipe indicated, and they were certainly well enough done. Depending on how large or small you cut yours, twenty minutes may be plenty long.

I don't know if it was because I bought "real" carrots instead of the artificially cut and pre-washed baby ones, or because I browned them in the butter as Wittop Koning suggested, but these were the sweetest I'd ever tasted:

Eet smakelijk!  Enjoy your meal!

1 comment:

  1. That reminds me of the recipe I've used, which says to cook them in butter, then simmer them in beer.