Here's something I truly love about my job: The people in my office are always hungry. For an obsessive and relentless cook like me, this is a dream come true. Whatever I make, my coworkers demolish enthusiastically. And then they send me nice emails that make me smile.
Most of the time I bring sweet treats. My brownies, almond butter and strawberry jam bars, fig muffins, fig and goat cheese tart...all of these draw praise and make me new friends. The zucchini squares, not exactly sweets, have many fans nonetheless.
But how many people are lucky enough to be able to walk around the office handing out pickled red carrots with wild fennel seeds and still get groans of pleasure? I love California, Land of the Vegetable Worshippers.
The pickled carrots at a Chicks with Knives dinner party a few months ago inspired me to try this batch. I used a red variety of carrots, which starts out reddish-purple on the outside and orange on the inside. I cut the carrots into thin sticks and packed them into clean jars, then brought the brine ingredients to a boil. As soon as I poured over the hot brine, it turned a beautiful magenta, which eventually soaked into the carrot sticks. They're a glorious color.
The wild fennel seeds were a last-minute decision, and a good one. Wild fennel is a weed in southern California; you find it in big feathery stands in parking lots, growing through chain-link fences, and, luckily, along this one gorgeous fire road in the Santa Monica mountains above Pacific Palisades. Every year I make a point of hiking that road in the early winter, when the plants have dried up and the seeds are waiting to be washed away by the rains to come. I bring a zip-top plastic bag and collect enough fennel seeds to use throughout the year. They're more intense than the normal culinary variety, and I steep them in cream to flavor chocolate truffles (super-dark, 70 percent). If you're not in California you'll have to use the fennel seeds from the store, but fear not - the results will be different but just as good.
I also used grapefruit vinegar from Trader Joe's because that's what I had. You don't have to seek it out, but if you're there, try it. The grapefruit notes really do come through.
Pickled red carrots with wild fennel seeds
- 1 lb red carrots, scraped and cut into thin matchsticks
- 1/2 cup grapefruit vinegar
- 1/2 cup white wine or champagne vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 2 Tbsp fennel seeds (wild if you can get them)
Bring the remaining ingredients to a simmer in a saucepan. Pour the hot liquid over the carrot sticks, right up to the rim of the jars. Put the tops on the jars and let cool on the counter. When the jars are cool, store in the refrigerator. The pickles will be ready in three days and will last up to a month in the refrigerator.
Photo: Linh Da Tran