As much as I love experimenting in the kitchen, there are times that I crave a classic. These copper pennies were a dish that I learned to make during my short stint at A Pinch of Thyme, an upscale catering business in Greensboro, North Carolina, during the 1990s. I suppose if they were to have given me a title, I might have been a “food prep specialist” or some such thing, but I basically just did a whole lot of chopping of fresh vegetables for crudité, salads and other recipes.
One of the most important lessons I learned in the “Pinch kitchen,” as we called it, was that simple dishes tend to be everyone’s favorites. You didn’t have to make grand gestures to impress people with food—it just had to hit their palates with balance and sometimes a bit of nostalgia. No wonder these copper pennies were popular with our clients for catered lunches—they cover both!
Copper pennies started appearing on American tables in the 1940s or so (the history on this is tough to track down), and most vintage cookbooks I’ve seen call for Campbell’s condensed tomato soup in the marinade. That’s the nostalgia part, I suppose, but we were having none of that in the Pinch kitchen. Our clients expected the food to be prepared from scratch, and that’s how I’ve made them here as well. In the spirit of full disclosure, the recipe I’m sharing today did not come from Pinch, but from a Junior League cookbook that was gifted to me many years earlier.
When I ran across the recipe, my mouth instantly began to water, as I recalled the tasty and vibrant copper pennies I had made so many years ago. The recipe builds on a small can of tomato sauce, and I tweaked it a bit for my own taste, cooking the marinade to deepen its flavor as well as cook off the tinny taste from the can. Here’s a glimpse of the rest of the ingredients. See? simple.
The onions and green bell pepper are standard, and I backed off the sugar in the Junior League recipe and added a splash of dry vermouth to elevate the marinade flavors. Dry white wine would be a perfect substitute, but I never have a bottle of that open and, after reaching for vermouth in its place one day, I found the complexity so appealing that I never looked back. If you’re a fellow martini lover, with a bottle of dry vermouth in the fridge, give it a try in a few recipes and let me know what you think about it in place of wine. I whisked in olive oil when the marinade was nearly finished, and sprinkled in celery seed for an herbal note.
While the sauce simmered, I got to work slicing my carrots, and I purposely selected larger, fatter carrots for this recipe. My mandoline came in handy for this, as I was able to get perfectly round, even slices, but you must be careful using a mandoline. You see the large carrot “heels” I had leftover after slicing? That was because I stopped when my hands were getting too close to the blade. If you have never used a mandoline before, may I suggest you circle back to my post from two years ago, A Quick Flick of the Wrist, to see firsthand how dangerous it can be to ignore the safety features of this versatile kitchen gadget. If you’re more comfortable slicing by hand, that’s fine, too.
The only thing left to do was steam the carrots, which I did for 8 or 9 minutes, until a carrot slice tested to al dente firmness. I transferred them directly into the tangy tomato marinade, along with the onions and peppers, then tossed it all together before cooling it down in the fridge.
This is a great option for make-ahead side, when you want a chilled salad that isn’t carb-heavy the way pasta or potato salad might be. You can serve it as is, or dress it up a bit by serving it over a bed of greens. One of the tricks I learned in catering is that serving a marinated salad over greens allows for the excess liquid to run underneath, keeping the main part of the dish nice and crisp.
Tender-crisp steamed carrots and a tangy tomato marinade make this vintage recipe a keeper! It's perfect to make ahead for any kind of summer gathering.
- 2 pounds fresh carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
- 8 oz. can tomato paste
- 1 medium sweet onion, sliced thin from top to bottom
- 1/2 medium green bell pepper, cut into thin strips and then cut into 1-inch pieces
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1/3 cup cane sugar
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp. worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp. prepared Dijon mustard
- 2 Tbsp. dry white wine (or vermouth)
- 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. celery seed
- A few handfuls washed baby greens, for serving
- Combine tomato sauce, vinegar, Dijon, sugar and worcestershire a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until sugar is dissolved.
- Add white wine (or vermouth) and cook until mixture begins to thicken slightly. Stir in celery seeds and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and allow sauce to cool to room temperature.
- Prepare to steam carrots by placing a steamer basket or pot over a pot with approximately one inch of water. Heat until water maintains a consistent gentle boil. Add carrots to basket and steam for 8 or 9 minutes, until tender-crisp. No stirring is necessary during steaming.
- Transfer carrots directly into cooled tomato sauce. Add onions and bell peppers and toss gently to combine. Cool and then refrigerate overnight to meld the flavors. Serve copper pennies over a bed of baby greens, if desired.
10 thoughts on “Copper Pennies”