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The Sweet Taste of Nearly Spring

March 31, 2014

As long as winter is hanging around and thwarting what could be an otherwise lovely spring, why not make the most of it?

One thing I think some people forget is that these doldrums of winter are high season for maple sugaring. It’s not much of a comfort, I know, when your bones long to be warmed in the sun. But despite the herculean amount of labor involved, more sap equals more syrup, and higher supply invariably helps to keep costs in check.

Maple has become such a staple in our house these days I would hate to think of the financial impact of a bad harvest.

Still, maple isn’t the only thing sweet to be found in the last days of winter’s transition into spring. That is, providing you still have some hardy carrots rattling around in the bottom of your root cellar. Just last night I used this technique to impress one of Little Miss Fussy’s school friends who went back for seconds because my old wintery carrots were “as sweet as sugar”.

Small kids are great, because they don’t lie. If they don’t like something, they aren’t polite. And they won’t tell you something is good just to spare your feelings.

The truth is that I’ve been using this stupid easy technique for roasting carrots for a long time. Oddly, it doesn’t look like I’ve ever shared my variation on the Cook’s Illustrated tried and true recipe. But I’m terrible at the internet, so maybe I have.

One of the upsides about getting old is that people don’t blink when you start repeating yourself.

First I preheat the oven to 425 and make sure there’s a rack in the middle of the oven.
Then I get out my large Pyrex baking dish, two pounds of organic carrots, and my peeler.
(Two pounds? Yeah. These cook down and you’ll eat them like candy.)
After peeling, I cut the carrots crosswise into thirds and split the thicker sections lengthwise.
In the Pyrex I toss them with oil, salt and black pepper from the mill.
Before going in the oven, the dish gets sealed with aluminum foil.
Fifteen minutes later, remove the foil and continue to roast until they are done.
Check after thirty minutes and correct for salt and pepper before serving.

Cook’s says to use two tablespoons of melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper for 1 1/2 pounds of carrots. That’s far too much measuring for me.

Just know that too much oil and your carrots won’t brown. Too little and they’ll burn. But you can delay browning by stirring the carrots around while they cook. If you’ve overdone the oil a bit, don’t move the carrots until they pick up some color on the bottom. Luckily, you are using a glass dish and can see right through it. That’s cooking smart right there.

Also, do not skip out on the salt. It’s the salt that draws some of the water out of the carrots and helps pre-steam them in the first fifteen minutes of cooking. It’s a critical step.

It may take a few bags of carrots to get comfortable with this technique. But once you get it down, you can get more inventive with the flavors. You can throw in some whole unpeeled garlic cloves, or use a pinch of thyme. These can be finished with a little lemon juice to balance the sweetness if you want to keep the side a bit more subdued, or to correct from a heavy hand with the salt.

Advanced cooks can even add other root vegetable to the mix. The important thing is to have a sense of their cooking times so you know how small the pieces have to be in order for everything to come out at the same time.

I like throwing in some quartered onions and a few halved baby yukon gold potatoes. Beets sometimes make an appearance too. You could even venture into chunks of loose sausage and turn this side dish into a meal.

Soon spring will be here in earnest, and we’ll be charring ramps on the grill and making garlic scape “pesto”. Or maybe they don’t have scapes in New Jersey. I’ll just have to wait and see.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 31, 2014 10:14 am

    I thought you were going to talk about carrots and maple sugar which is a delicious way to eat them and very kid friendly. Saute sliced carrots with a bit of salt and thyme in some butter, when not quite tender add a bit of maple sugar, cook uncovered till it starts to caramelize, serve.

  2. March 31, 2014 10:14 am

    Maple syrup, not maple sugar.

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