It was one of those nights when I stood staring at a bunch of fresh vegetables and didn’t know where to start? I had the funniest looking carrots (in the funny peculiar way, that is) and I was dying to use them. I was 100% sure that they would taste delicious, even if they were not the prettiest-looking things in the world.
They reminded me of a job I took when I was about 11 or 12, harvesting carrots for the headmaster of my school one summer. I lived in the country, and the only work available to earn pocket-money was agrarian. This was rural Ireland in the 1970’s and when you were hired to work in some field or other, weeding beet or picking strawberries, it was serious business.
The farmer did not hire the kid to do them a favor, and to teach them responsibility. No one could afford to give those kinds of lessons. Yes, we were cheap labor, but we did learn how to do an honest days work, and the money we received seemed like a fortune.
The headmaster of our country school was the most elegant man I had known as a child. He always wore a three-piece suit to school and swished a cane by his side when patrolling the yard during break time. There were many days he would arrive to class sporting a pale pink carnation in the buttonhole of his jacket. I haven’t thought about that in years…
He lived in the same village as our family, sent his 5 boys to the same school, and I saw him at the same mass every Sunday, but somehow, I always felt he lived a life apart from the rest of us. His willingness to stand out in a place and time where going for a country stroll after dinner was considered more than a little eccentric, was admirable to me. This is hard to explain. People worked very hard just to get by, and the thought of going for a walk after putting in a hard day was never contemplated. People were just too darn tired!
I learned more from him in two years than I had in all the previous years combined of my primary education. His unwillingness to tolerate laziness along with the liberal use of his cane probably had something to do with my enthusiasm to learn whatever he dished out!
He owned a couple of fields around his house and must have rented them out to farmers for the most part. One summer however, he asked the class if anyone was willing to work for him harvesting his vegetables. I raised my hand and that weekend found myself standing with a pretty big group of my class mates in a field behind his house.
I was giving a bucket, which I filled with water, and stood out in a drill between rows of planted carrots. My job was to pull the carrots, wash them in my bucket, tie them in bundles, stack them and eventually bring them to a big table when I had to change my bucket of dirty water.
The headmaster would walk the drills, stopping by every child making sure they were doing a good job, and praising work well done.
As you can imagine, everyone worked very hard, and none more than me. I actually loved pulling the carrots out of the ground, watching the sudden orange of the root appear like a prize from the dirt. These were gnarly carrots indeed! Lots had extra little appendages growing from them, and were twisted and bent like rickety old walking sticks.
Appearances are certainly misleading, because they were some of the sweetest carrots I have ever tasted. The carrots sitting in front of me this particular evening, so many decades later, reminded me of that day, like it was yesterday.
The old headmaster died some years back now, and I was sorry to hear the news.
You will need: 1 lb streaky bacon, 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 1 sweet onion, cut in half and then into slices, 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, 3 mild peppers, thinly sliced, 1 yellow squash, diced, 8-12 fresh whole basil leaves, 2 tbs pesto (type pesto in search box in column to the right of my blog for recipe, or use a good quality jarred, or buy from the fresh section of your supermarket), 1/2 cup chicken broth or water, 6 or so cups of cooked basmati rice (2 1/2 cups for stove-top method and 3 cups if using rice-cooker and rice-cooker measure), 6 eggs (optional), sea-salt and freshly ground pepper for seasoning.
1 – Put rice on first thing and cook according to instructions. When cooked, set aside.
2 – In a separate pan from the pan you will use to cook the main part of the dish, fry the bacon until getting crispy. Drain on paper towels and set aside. When cool enough to handle, chop into bite-sized slices.
3 – While bacon is cooking, put big saute pan on low/medium heat and add oil. When it has warmed, add the onions and fry for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the sliced carrots and garlic, and continue to cook for another 5 or so minutes.
4 – Add the yellow squash and mild peppers and continue to cook for another 10 minutes or so, until the squash begins to soften. Add the basil and cook for another 3 minutes.
5 – Add the pesto, bacon, and broth (or water) and stir everything together. Taste and add salt and/or pepper if you feel it needs it. Add the cooked rice and give everything a good stir to incorporate. Add more water or broth if you want a looser mixture.
6 – If using the eggs; fry according to your taste (soft, medium, hard, sunny-side-up??), and top each dish with one, and a little hot sauce.
Serve in warmed bowls alone, or with hot sauce, or, with fried eggs and hot sauce.