They simmer in stocks, accentuate pot roast and stand in as a crunchy, good-for-you snack between meals. But in the hands of deft chefs, taken-for-granted carrots are fast becoming the highlight of the dinner table.
“Carrots have a nice bright flavor, sweet, with the slightest bit of bitterness and astringency,” says Rob Marzinsky, executive chef of Fitler Dining Room, in Philadelphia. At the restaurant he combines a melange of carrots — yellow, white, Purple Haze and Kyoto red among them. The baby ones are roasted with whole spices and coffee beans, while the larger varieties are sauteed in shallot, ginger, jalapeno and the North African spice mixture, ras el hanout. Marzinsky then pairs them with farro from nearby Castle Valley Mill that’s dressed in ginger-carrot vinaigrette, a “pesto” made with carrot leaves and tangy yogurt.
Why is the humble carrot such an appealing draw for chefs? Marzinsky points to its versatility: “As one of the foundations of French cooking, carrots can be blanched, roasted, sauteed or glazed and are wonderful raw and pickled,” he says.
The intriguing carrot preparation above, served at British-inspired The Coachman, in San Francisco, was cobbled together organically, says chef Ross Wunderlich. “We started off with a dill, parsley and creme fraiche pan sauce, and just started throwing things in it until we landed on the carrots and lentils with a ton of herbs,” he says. “While we were doing that we were also putting things in our smoker. Dates kept reappearing and it made sense to make a jam out of them.”
Before guests turn their attention to the classic steak frites at French Louie, the New American–French mash-up in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood, it behooves them to order chef Ryan Angulo’s roasted carrot and citrus salad, in which he slow roasts baby rainbow carrots in coconut oil, then melds them with Cara Cara oranges, blood oranges and grapefruit that get lightly bronzed with a torch. Marinated in pistachio vinaigrette, the carrots are then placed atop a salad comprising the charred citrus, endive, baby greens and coconut yogurt.
The crunchy vegetable sticks “complement many flavors, like orange, coconut and ginger — think of carrot cake,” Angulo says. “They are so easy to transform into something delicious.”
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Alia Akkam is a New York-based writer who covers the intersection of food, drink, travel and design. She launched her career by opening boxes of Jamie Oliver books as a Food Network intern.
Carrot and lentil photo (top) courtesy of The Coachman.