Carrots are rather underappreciated. You probably keep them in your fridge all the time, but you only use one here or there, in a green salad or as a base for soup, maybe with pot roast. Occasionally you’ll highlight them with something like carrot cake. But if you take a moment to think about why you use them so much, you’ll realize it’s because they’re good in everything. They’re sweet, which means they help to balance out sour or spicy flavors. They’re crunchy, so they lend excellent texture to just about any dish. Carrots happen to be pretty to look at. They also get some well-deserved credit for being good for your eyes. Among other organs.
In this meal, they do admittedly play second fiddle to their more colorful friend, the beet.
A lot of people think they don’t like beets. But I have a secret for them. Beets? They’re a lot like carrots. They’re a crazy Revlon lipstick color, but they too lend sweetness and crunch to a lot of dishes. They offer antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. They have quite a lot in common with carrots – both are packed with beta carotene. And both are root vegetables. Incidentally, both are in season right now. Why not put them together?
Whenever I have beets and carrots, I’m tempted to shred them and make a salad with them, with a very lemony vinaigrette. But today I thought, let’s elevate them to something warm and make them the main dish. Pasta! Knowing that beets tend to dye everything a deep wine-y red, including pasta, I thought it best to throw in another spring vegetable with a contrasting color. Enter the pea!
These are English peas. They look a lot like sugar snap peas, but when you open the (inedible) pods you will find larger, starchier peas just waiting to be eaten. Shelling them is easy, and well worth the effort. Peas are actually legumes, and they have cancer-fighting properties. I grew up hating them, and I’ll admit that the only peas I really enjoy to this day are fresh spring peas, whether English or otherwise. They still have a bit of attitude – a real bite when you chomp down on them so that they pop in your mouth. None of those mealy starchy frozen little blobs. It’s all about the fresh stuff.
These three vegetables combine with a simple whole wheat orzo pasta to make an insanely colorful and tasty dish. With a generous splash of quality dry white wine and a spritz of lemon, you have yourself a surprisingly refreshing pasta dish for spring.
Beet and Carrot Orzo with Peas (serves 4)
- 8 oz. whole wheat orzo
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
- 4 small beets, peeled and shredded (about 2 cups)
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded (about 1 cup)
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 1 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tbsp fresh)
- 1 cup shelled fresh peas
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- salt and pepper to taste
1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Salt the pot and add the orzo. Cook over medium-high heat until al dente, about 8 minutes or according to package directions. Drain.
2. While the water comes to a boil, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and saute, stirring frequently, until just starting to get tender and golden. Add the shredded beets and carrots and cook, still stirring, for about 3 minutes, or until the beets and carrots are starting to get tender.
3. Add the wine and the thyme, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for about 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally, to let the alcohol cook out a bit. Remove from heat.
4. Stir the peas and the lemon juice into the beet-carrot mixture and put a lid on the skillet until the pasta is finished. Stir in the cooked pasta and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.