January Food

Whole-Wheat Pasta with Creamy Roasted Carrot Sauce

Does January seem like a never-ending month to you too? Most months fly by before I’ve really registered their arrival, but this one seems to inch forward like a blob of molasses. Of course it doesn’t help that I spend most of the month in a kind of food purgatory. On one hand I’m actively trying to avoid even hearing the words ‘light’, ‘healthy’ and ‘diet-friendly’ let alone eating anything that could be described as such. I mean really, who wants to diet now, when the days are at their darkest, the weather at its worst and nothing but roots and crucifers are in season? Give me food that’s going to comfort, not depress!

On the other hand, though, even I feel the need to atone for my end-of-the-year sins. I don’t know what it is about December, but each year all my plans for moderation last all of about ten minutes before being quashed by the mantra: “oh well, it’s the holidays!”. This is the kind of thinking that begins with justifying an extra cookie with my afternoon coffee and ends with me drinking spiked eggnog for breakfast and having three helpings of dessert after every meal. And then I wonder why I feel so lousy by the end.

So it’s inevitable that in January I try to regain some balance. It’s nothing as drastic as dieting, you know, just a return to more sensible ways: booze, sugar and white flour are (mostly) out, meat and cheese are minimized, and vegetables and whole grains are the focus. Meals should be neither too large nor too small, neither spartan nor indulgent, but wholesome and satisfying—and delicious enough that I can momentarily forget that I’m doing something good for myself.

One of my all-time favorite, tried-and-true meals in this category is the following pasta. I can’t believe I’ve never told you about it, in fact, since it’s something I’ve been making for literally decades. I clipped it out of a magazine during my vegetarian teens and liked it so much I never stopped making it. It’s a brilliantly simple idea: you just roast some sliced carrots, onions and garlic in the oven until soft and caramelized, then blend them up with vegetable (or chicken) broth into a rustic, surprisingly full-flavored sauce for pasta. That was as far as the original recipe went (at least as far as I remember; I’ve long since lost the clipping), but over the years a little thyme and crème fraîche crept their way in too, along with a finishing crunch of toasted nuts. I also started using whole wheat pasta which in addition to squeezing out a few more health benefits adds a wonderful heartiness.

The end result is pretty much perfect January food: it ticks all the nutrition boxes, is made with things that I almost always have on hand, and tastes deceptively rich and complex. Most importantly, as pasta in creamy sauces tends to be, it’s deeply comforting—almost (but not quite) as much as knowing that February is right around the corner.

Whole-Wheat Pasta with Creamy Roasted Carrot Sauce
Serves: 4-6

1.5 lbs (750g) carrots (about 6 large), peeled and sliced 1/2-inch (1.25cm) thick
1 large yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
4 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 – 1.5 cups (250-375ml) hot, strong vegetable or chicken broth
4-5 tablespoons crème fraîche, sour or heavy cream
salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste

1 lb. (450g) whole wheat penne, farfalle or other chunky pasta, cooked according to package directions

freshly-grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese
chopped toasted hazelnuts or pecans, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C.  Toss the carrots, onion, garlic, thyme and oil together in a bowl, then spread them out on a foil-covered baking sheet in a single layer. Roast until the carrots are tender and flecked with brown, about 45 minutes, stirring a couple of times and removing the garlic early if it starts to over-brown. Peel the garlic cloves and puree with the rest of the vegetables in a food processor or blender, adding as much broth as necessary to make a thick, creamy sauce. Blend in the crème fraîche. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Toss with hot cooked pasta and top with a sprinkling of cheese and toasted nuts.