by Lillie Leone
When Thanksgiving came around this year, I was upset that I couldn’t celebrate it with my close family; one of the hardest parts about being an international student is that you can’t shoot home for weekends or holidays to enjoy delicious home cooking. There’s something profoundly comforting about eating the food you grew up with, at the dinner table you and your siblings always fought at, with the people closest to you. This is especially true on Thanksgiving, a holiday defined by national eating traditions.
However, I learned this year that more important than the general customs are the personal, family traditions; of course everyone makes turkey and stuffing, but what makes Thanksgiving dinner special are the little choices each family makes to tweak and personalize these dishes. My family adds dried figs to our homemade stuffing because my dad and I love the salty-sweet combo, and we go light on the celery because my brother isn’t a fan; we leave the marshmallows off the sweat potatoes because no one really likes them and we add walnuts instead to add a bit of crunch; we fuse smooth pumpkin filling and a layer of pecan brittle on top to get the best of both pies in one.
So when I couldn’t spend Thanksgiving with my parents, brother and sister, I knew that the only thing I could do to make me feel better was to cook an entire feast, using the same recipes my family uses at home. I asked my mom for her carrot pudding recipe (see below!), and I could feel her smile through the phone, “I’m so glad you’re carrying the torch of our little Thanksgiving traditions!” Although they aren’t part of the usual Thanksgiving layout, my mom started making them when I was in elementary school and has made them every year since; I can’t remember celebrating Thanksgiving without them. She started making them when she found out she was gluten intolerant; a substitute for the bread rolls was a must. Turns out, they’re waaaaaay tastier than bread rolls. You take a bite; the first thing you taste is the blend of carrots and fresh herbs; then, almost as an afterthought, the initial sweetness is balanced by the spicy hit of the jalapeño. Their perfect spongy texture compliments the drier, chewier stuffing and, considering it’s only carrots and egg, these muffins are probably the only dish on the Thanksgiving table that isn’t fattening and unhealthy.
Aside from their delicious taste, I cherish this recipe because it remembers; their sponginess doesn’t only absorb cranberry sauce and gravy. Where our memory fails us, food has the amazing power of capturing specific moments, preserving them, cherishing them, and unexpectedly reminding us of them long after they’ve been forgotten. All you have to do is cook and eat, and entire scenes of years past bloom in your memory. For me, this experience translates into a cathartic joy reserved for cooking, and despite the simplicity of this dish, preparing the carrot pudding muffins is no different.
Makes 4 ramekins
- 2 tablespoons bread crumbs
- 1 pound baby carrots
- 1 medium white onion, peeled and quartered
- 2 shallots, peeled
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- ½ jalapeño pepper, seedless (this is optional; you can add more or leave it out entirely)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons grated pecorino cheese (can be substituted for parmesan cheese)
- 2 teaspoons picked fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 3 large eggs
- Butter for ramekins (if you don’t have ramekins, a muffin tray works fine too!)
- Butter the ramekins and coat with breadcrumbs. Tap out excess bread crumbs.
- Heat oven to 450°. Place the carrots, onion, shallots, thyme, rosemary, and jalapeño in a baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Place in the oven, turning over halfway through cooking, until tender (about 30 minutes).
- Reduce oven to 375°. Transfer the roasted mixture into a bowl and using a food processor or hand-held blender, process until it is a smooth purée. Be careful when blending not to let the mixture explode everywhere. Like I did….
- Add the salt, black pepper, cheese, picked thyme, chopped rosemary, and stir with a spatula to combine. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Using an electric whisk, whisk the eggs on high-speed until thick, pale yellow, and frothy. It should triple in volume. Stir ¼ of the beaten egg into the carrot purée and fold the rest of the egg into the mixture.
- Divide the carrot mixture between the ramekins and bake in the middle of the oven until browned on top, about 40 minutes.
Lillie Leone is a Sophomore at UT majoring in Plan II Honors and Italian.