Carrot Flan with Microgreens and Lemon Vinaigrette
The opening weekend of the Ithaca Farmer’s Market was the first weekend of April, and I couldn’t have been more ready. This winter has felt particularly long to me — in part, I’m sure, because I was home-bound for so long caring for little Miss A when she was a newborn, but also because as a result of that intense period of care, I had to shelve many of my “hobbies” temporarily in order to focus on her. And I don’t say that with an ounce of regret — it was time well spent, of course, and I am completely in love with her — but after three and a half months of a baby-centric world, I was looking forward to dipping my toes back into the food world, being able to think about ingredients and shop for them at the market again, and just cook. The timing of the Market’s opening day worked out well: at a little over 4 months old, she’s in her “show me it all!” phase — always ready to see something new, watch me putter around the kitchen, and meet new people. So we journeyed down to the Market together, and while she enjoyed taking in the sights and sounds and people milling about, I was happy to reconnect with some of the vendors and farmers that I’ve gotten to know. (Plus, it was fun to introduce her to everyone who had seen me visiting their stands in a very pregnant state this past fall!)
West Haven Farm, a favorite of mine, had some gorgeous microgreens for sale, and the idea for this dish started when I saw them alongside some beautiful spring carrots.
One of my favorite dishes that I’d cooked while at The Culinary Institute of America for their Boot Camp Program was a carrot flan; there we served it as an accompaniment to poached fish, but I was looking to turn it into an appetizer in its own right. The delicate, crisp microgreens would be a perfect foil for the smooth, creamy flan, I thought; dressed with a light lemony vinaigrette punctuated with parsley, it’s a great starter for spring meals. If you can’t find microgreens, some delicate baby greens would do well as a stand-in.
The recipe is a straightforward custard, with the pureed carrots blended with eggs and a little cream, then baked in a water bath until set. The one thing to note is that the length of time and intensity with which you mix the ingredients does affect the final texture…I usually puree the carrots, then just whisk the eggs and cream in by hand, which gives the smooth, creamy texture of a custard. This past time, I tried mixing the pureed carrots together with the eggs and cream in a food processor — and the texture of the flans after they baked were lighter and fluffier, more like a mousse. I prefer the smooth, custard-like texture, but I’m just telling you this so you can make the call yourself, dear readers. Flan or mousse, whatever floats your boat.
I think I may try making a few other vegetable-based flans this spring; perhaps a spinach flan with a feta dressing? a spring pea flan with greens, chevre, and chives? Hurry up, peas! I’m waiting for you.
Carrot Flan with Microgreens and Lemon Vinaigrette
Adapted from the Culinary Institute of America
Makes 6 individual servings
For the Flans:
12 ounces carrots (about 10 thin spring carrots, or enough to make 2 1/2 cups of chopped 1-inch pieces)
4 ounces (1/2 cup) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Cook the pieces of carrots in boiling salted water until tender, about 8 minutes. Drain and puree in a food processor or blender until smooth, and let cool slightly.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter 6 3/4-cup ramekins.
Whisk the pureed carrots together with the eggs, heavy cream, salt and pepper. Divide the mixture among the buttered ramekins, and place the ramekins in a baking pan. Add enough hot water to the baking pan so that the water goes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Cover the pain with foil and bake until the custards are set and a knife inserted near the middle of one comes out clean (I found this took about 45 minutes in my oven, but you’ll want to start testing sooner.)
Remove the ramekins from the baking dish and let cool slightly before unmolding. I’ve served these both warm and cold; see directions below for serving.
For the Vinaigrette:
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
Whisk together the lemon juice, lemon peel, shallot, mustard, and honey. Stream in the olive oil, whisking constantly, until an emulsion forms. Season well with salt and pepper, add the chopped parsley (if using), and store in the refrigerator.
Place a handful of microgreens for each serving of flan in a large bowl. Drizzle some vinaigrette over the greens, season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, and toss to dress. Run a knife around the inside of the ramekins to loosen the flans, then invert them over a plate to unmold. Serve the flans topped with a handful of dressed microgreens and an additional drizzle of the vinaigrette.