Carrots with brown butter and hazelnuts

Christmas, you’d think, would be the time I shout loudest about sides. “MORE MORE MORE, GO CRAZY, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SIDES”.

Well it is — the trimmings are the best bit, of course …

… but it’s also not — because we do it all wrong, and we’ll never change, so I’m not sure how much time I should spend on the matter.

Oh, okay then, just a minute or two more.

Spuds, carrots, sprouts, something else green, some parsnips or squash, two stuffings, sausages in bacon, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, a last minute bag of peas just in case. That’s at least eight sides too many. Few of those things will be at their peak, your kitchen will be a shit show, and however good it actually is, the meal can never (sadly) be worth all the effort. We’d be much better off having a suet pastry topped pie with two brilliant sides and a great gravy. But hey, we are where we are.

So all I will say, is that on the main day just carry on as you normally do. Save, make an extra effort or add a little twist to (just) one of the sides. From On the Side I suggest Honey and Marmite roast parsnips (p.182), French-ish peas (p.58), sprouts and sprout tops with chestnuts and rosemary (p.34), deep-fried sprouts with celery salt (p.32), PX radicchio (if you’re having beef or goose, p.74), or carrots with brown butter and hazelnuts (p.220, and extracted below). See also last years’ ‘Festive Sides’ in the links at the base of this post.

Carrots with brown butter and hazelnuts

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with serving simply boiled or steamed carrots. If you ever fancy taking that staple up a notch or two, though, try this browned butter and hazelnut trick; the nutty aromas of the garnish add so much flavour to a meal.

As with carrots generally, this side is amenable to many foods, though I especially like it with pork loin or chops, poached chicken, bavette steaks, pan-fried hake, cod or other white fish.

Serves 4–6

  • 600g carrots (baby carrots are particularly good)
  • 30g hazelnuts, toasted
  • Leaves from 15 stems flat-leaf parsley 50g butter
  • Juice of 1⁄2 lemon
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Slice the carrots lengthways (or leave them whole if they’re small enough). Put them in a saucepan and add cold water to cover by 3–4 cm. Add a couple of pinches of salt, bring to the boil and simmer for 10–15 minutes, or until tender.

Roughly chop the hazelnuts and chop the parsley as finely as you can.

Drain the carrots and return them to the pan or transfer to a serving dish. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over a medium-high heat until it starts to froth. After a minute or so the butter will be golden and will smell nutty, and a patch in the middle will become calm. When that happens, throw in the crushed hazelnuts, stir them for 10 seconds, then turn off the heat, squeeze in the lemon juice and add the parsley.

Quickly pour the contents of the pan over the carrots. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt, toss well so that all the carrots are glossy and the parsley and hazelnuts are evenly distributed. Serve immediately.

A L O N G S I D E : Sweet cauliflower greens (page 38); New potatoes with pickled samphire and sorrel (page 174); Celeriac baked in a salt and thyme crust (page 198); Bread sauce and parsnip crisps (page 236); Spelt grains with wild mushrooms (page 256)

Recipe and image from On the Side: a sourcebook of inspiring side dishes (Bloomsbury). Picture credit Joe Woodhouse.