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A 14-carrot event: Humble veggie yields rich harvest of recipes

Updated 5:08 pm, Monday, February 25, 2013

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  • Carrots from Fort Hill Farms in Thompson were featured fare Saturday at the Westport Farmers Market.  WESTPORT NEWS, CT 2/23/13 Photo: Meg Barone / Westport News freelance
    Carrots from Fort Hill Farms in Thompson were featured fare Saturday at the Westport Farmers Market. WESTPORT NEWS, CT 2/23/13 Photo: Meg Barone

 

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All that glitters isn't gold. The 14-carrot event Saturday at the Westport Farmers Market featured jewelry for the palate rather than the ring finger.

The monthly recipe competition at the farm market, based for the season at Gilbertie's Herbs, drew 14 sweet and savory entries, all of which had as the main ingredient carrots purchased from a local farm. Competitors were required to note the name of the farm on their entry.

Lori Cochran, the market's executive director, said the contest judges were surprised by the variety of entries, fearing most of the recipes would be some sort of carrot cake. Instead, the entrants would have fashioned a menu suitable for a high-end restaurant ranging from appetizers to desserts, and even an alcoholic beverage.

Joan Fiorelli of Norwalk made an aromatic wild rice dish with caramelized carrots. Pamela Aflalo of Stamford and her daughter Sophie, 8, baked the third place-winning cardamom-spiced carrot cake doughnuts. One amateur chef put together a Caribbean carrot salad. Leslie Cullen of Wilton made a carrot soup, and the second-place entry was a dish of marinated carrots on pumpernickel bread with goat cheese.

Barbara Boardman of Westport took home first-place honors and a Westport Farmers Market tote filled with more than $100 worth of products for her inside-out carrot cake cookies. "I make these cookies every year for my best friend's birthday so they are well loved," she said.

The tradition started about eight years ago. "She liked carrot cake and I liked to bake," Boardman said.

The celebrity judges -- Matt Storch, executive chef and co-owner, of Match in South Norwalk and The Chelsea in Fairfield, and Geoff Lazlo, the new chef at Le Farm in Westport -- sampled each entry.

"We were looking for something that had pure carrot flavor, textural contrasts, creativity and great execution," Storch said.

Lazlo said one competitor made excellent frosted carrot cupcakes, but lost points on the execution.

After the judges announced the first, second, third and honorable mention choices, shoppers at the market were invited to sample all of the entries.

"I liked the savory carrot pudding with peas, the soup and the salad. You can take a simple ingredient and make a fabulous, diverse and unexpected meal. All from one simple ingredient. And you can feel good about eating this because it's locally grown and organic," said Juliette Balian of Westport, who competed in the farm market's cabbage recipe challenge last month.

"It's great to celebrate a humble and beautiful ingredient such as a carrot. It's good to see people being creative with a delicious product," Lazlo said.

Fiorelli said the idea behind the contest to use one particular ingredient forces cooks or bakers to be creative, to go in the kitchen and come up with something that someone else may not have thought about rather than making the same old thing.

Kelly Cullen of Easton said the contest allowed for a family culinary experience. Her son, Dakota Koopmann, 12, "helped me every step of the way" in making the carrot cake they entered. "He peeled (carrots), he grated, sifted, measured and helped me put it all together," she said. Dakota's twin brother Cassidy, served as taste-tester," said Cullen, who learned about the event from her sister Leslie.

"A little competition with my sister is good, and we like to support local. We bought our carrots at Riverbank Farm," one of the Westport Farmers Market vendors, Leslie Cullen said.

Dawn Totora, who is part of the Gilbertie family, was awarded honorable mention "for taste and creativity" for her carrot-and-blood-orange margarita, a recipe she modified from the original she found in a book called "Roots" by Diane Morgan, about root vegetables.

Cochran said many of the competitors enter dishes made from family recipes handed down from one generation to the next. "Grandmothers' secret recipes keep coming out in these competitions and it's a treasure to see them," Cochran said.

Cochran said the cooking competitions have sparked a lot of interest and prompted the market executives to continue with themes. Starting with the markets in May, the monthly overall theme of the market will focus on seasonal produce, how to prepare it and how it's grown. "The hope is to create a stronger connection between seasonal and local eating," she said.

Next month's cooking and baking challenge will feature as the main ingredient maple sugar or syrup. Entries will be judged at the Westport Farmers Market on March 16, the final winter market of the season.

For more information visit www.westportfarmersmarket.com