04/16/2014 09:43 am ET Updated Jun 16, 2014

Cooking Off the Cuff: Waiting for Spring With a Triple-Carrot Risotto

I'm not sure whether the expression "tripling down" exists, but that's what I seem to have done with one of the more flavorful vegetables still hanging around in the farmers' market pending the arrival of spring produce: carrots. And I brought them into a risotto in three forms, all of them adding flavor and some adding texture.

With certain other vegetable risottos -- notably squash -- I've acquired the habit of finely grating some of the title ingredient and cooking it along with the rice. It falls apart in the liquid, creating a lovely creaminess and, of course, reinforcing the flavor. With this carrot version, though, I've gone one step further: even the stock tastes of little more than carrot (with a little trickery to heighten that flavor). I've also used a non-Italian approach to spicing, bringing in cumin seed because of its particular affinity with carrots, and a little fennel seed to round things out. So, no, this risotto doesn't taste traditionally Italian; just delicious.

I made the stock in a pressure cooker: A pound of carrots, peeled and sliced; one shallot (or onion), peeled and not sliced; not much salt; a little cumin seed and even less fennel seed; and a piece of dried kombu seaweed. The shallot and the kombu are there to enhance the carrot flavor; having put it in yourself, you will smell and taste the seaweed, but no one else will. They'll just wonder why this stock tastes so good. I drowned the ingredients in water (a bit less than two quarts/liters) and pressure-cooked for 20 minutes, then let the cooker cool of its own accord and strained the stock through a very fine strainer (or through paper toweling or a coffee filter).

The second carrot element is the finely grated carrot: a good sized one, weighing about 6 ounces (170 g) for two portions, though quantities are not all that crucial here. I used a Microplane rasp-grater, but a food processor or the finest side of a box grater would work all right. I sweated a minced shallot (again, onion would be fine), 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seed, 1/4 teaspoon whole fennel seed and some butter in my favorite risotto-making pan; when the shallot had softened, I added the grated carrots and stirred them over medium-low heat until they began to cook, seasoning with salt and pepper.

At some point I also prepared the third tranche of carrots: another carrot of similar size, peeled and cut into scant-1/4-inch (6 mm) dice, then caramelized in butter over medium heat with a sprinkle of salt. They should be almost crunchy, but cooked: they will get only brief additional cooking. When they were done, I patted off excess fat with a paper towel.

Likewise, I made some little buttery croutons, over low heat so the bread would get crisp right through. But, you know what? I did this only because there were no nuts in the house: my ideal garnish for this risotto would have been toasted walnuts.

Getting back to the risotto pan: I shoved the mass of carrots to the side to make room for a little more butter and a generous 2/3 cup (170 g) of rice -- I used the carnaroli variety, as I almost always do. When the rice had cooked with the butter for a minute, I stirred it together with the grated carrots and added 1/2 cup (120 ml) white wine. That's a bit more than I'd normally use, but the carrots and carrot stock are sweet and the acidity in the wine helps balance the dish.

From here I followed standard risotto procedure, stirring pretty much constantly, and gradually adding carrot stock kept hot over a small flame. When the risotto was very nearly done, I stirred in the browned dice of carrot, let it warm through and checked for seasoning. A trifle more acidity was needed, so I stirred in about 1/3 cup (80 ml) tart crème fraîche, which also made for a more luxurious consistency. A squeeze of lemon juice would have been another possibility.

I then served it up, garnished with crunchy croutons and not garnished with cheese.

It was very carroty -- in an entirely good way -- and the cumin flavor was alluring. The rice, however, still made itself known, and that is the point of a risotto, isn't it?

Waiting For Spring With a Triple-Carrot Risotto