They really are a kitchen staple - I don't know what I'd do without them. They are the soul of so many Italian dishes as one of the trilogy of ingredients that go into the soffritto but did you know that they were also used as replacement for sugar during the war as sugar was a rationed item.
This little fact I discovered while watching a most fascinating series called The Wartime Kitchen and Garden. One of the dishes shown in the program got my attention as soon as I saw it - it was from one of the many cookbooks produced during the war called The Kitchen Front - a recipe for Wartime Chocolate Pudding
In the original recipe margarine was used as butter was a rationed item and left for more special occasions. Sugar was also rationed and in this recipe, only 1 ounce is used - grated carrot and golden syrup bring the sweetness to the dish. Cocoa powder is used to provide the chocolate hit.
It is a remarkably simple and modest recipe but having made it, it's a dish worthy of any occasion - a celebration of creativity and ingenuity in difficult times.
[Makes 2 small puddings]
240 grams flour
1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 ounces/50 grams softened butter
1 ounce/25 grams sugar
1 regular carrot, grated (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1-2 heaped tablespoons cocoa powder
½ pint/285mls milk, approx
Sift the flour, bicarb and baking powder together and place in a bowl. Set aside.
In another bowl, place the softened butter and sugar and beat until light and creamy. Beat in the grated carrot, followed by the golden syrup and vanilla essence. Add the sifted ingredients and the cocoa powder - stir, adding enough milk to form a soft, spoonable batter.
Liberally butter two 2-cup pudding bowls.
Divide the batter evenly into the bowls - cover with baking paper and secure with string or a silicon band.
Put the puddings into a steamer and steam for about 40-50 minutes or until cooked through. You can make one large pudding but they will take much longer to steam - you're looking at around 2 hours.
Before turning out, make sure the edges have loosened from the bowl - the pudding should have a springy almost sponge like texture.
For a good English pudding, you've got to serve it with either custard or some really thick cream.
A peek inside shows the carrots have pretty much been absorbed into the pudding - you certainly wouldn't know they were in there even if you were told. The golden syrup gives depth to the pudding, adding slightly smoky notes to the dish.