maple-roasted carrot salad

My life right now is basically a great big helping of “too many holiday cookies” with a side of “apartment that refuses to clean itself while I attempt getting back into marathon running shape” and a scoop of “ no, no, really I have to purchase presents now” for dessert. In other words, I needed a salad to counteract my barbaric carb intake of late and distract me from my to-do list. I found one and it was everything I wanted and more. Control what you can, as they say.

This salad comes from Ina Garten’s latest cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey, though I found it at her Barefoot Contessa site while doing a Google. It was a timely find for me because I’ve been debating whether to buy this book, since I don’t yet own anything of hers. This article, especially, has me feeling some feels about it, but maybe that’s because, you guys, Ina and Jeffrey have been married for 48 years. FORTY-EIGHT YEARS. Good god! Commitment that deep is admirable if not inspiring, regardless of its connection to marriage. Even just knowing someone that long. 

Anyway, now I’m thinking I might have to spend whatever holiday cash I receive (*wink*) on Lady Ina’s latest tome of culinary (and marital?) wisdom.

I’m off to a good start with this one, that’s for sure. And while it was most certainly delightful as printed, my notes on tweaks and substitutions are as follows:

  • You can use whatever soft cheese you like here, honestly the funkier the better. This cheese was amazing with it, as was the tamer Devil’s Gulch (obsessed with Cowgirl Creamery obvs), as was of course the goat cheese. Or leave off the cheese altogether and make it vegan, because the avo adds creaminess anyway. Yay for more people getting to enjoy it!
  • The dressing is POTENT. Maybe my bottle of sherry vinegar was a little more vinegar-y than usual – it was brand spanking new if that matters – but I felt like this dressing had an almost overwhelming bite to it that drowned out the carrots in a way I could’ve done without. I think it’d be equally good with this mellow classic.
  • It’s busy, this salad. Not uncommon for Ina and certainly not unlikeable in the least. Like I said, I lurved it truly madly deeply. Then again, I’ll probably pare it down in the future, and when I do the first thing to go will be the cranberries plumped in orange juice.
  • The carrots are, without a doubt, the star of the show. I’ll be making them this way on their own as a side—they were like candy, mmm!—maybe topped with avocado, a nice twist on this salad. (Related: Spotted Pig, I miss you!)

Maple-Roasted Carrot Salad, adapted a little from Barefoot Contessa
Serves 4 as a main, 6 as a side

2 lbs carrots, preferably with leafy tops
Extra virgin olive oil (you wont regret using your best here)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup pure Grade A maple syrup
2/3 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)
3 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, grated on a Microplane
6 oz baby arugula (or spinach, or a mix as I used)
2 oz goat cheese (or other semi-soft cheese)
1/2 avocado, cut into bite-sized slices
1/2 cup almonds, toasted (I used slivered)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Scrub the carrots well, then trim them into inch long segments on the diagonal. Chop any larger slices in half so that they are all the same size and cook evenly. Place the carrot segments in a large bowl and toss with ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper; then transfer to two sheet pans, making sure you don't crowd them on the pan. If you do they’ll steam instead of roasting. [Alternately, if you're looking to save yourself another dish to clean, spread the washed and sliced carrots out on the two pans and divvy the olive oil, salt, and pepper between the two and toss each on the pan.] 

Roast for 20 minutes, tossing once at the halfway point, until the carrots are tender. Transfer all the carrots to one of the sheet pans (they will have shrunk by this point), add the maple syrup, toss, and roast for 10 to 15 minutes more, until the edges are caramelized. Watch them carefully because they burn easily! Set aside to cool, for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the cranberries and orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10-12 mins until a good part of the liquid has evaporated and the cranberries are plump.

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk in 4 tablespoons of olive oil.  Assemble the salad by layering the carrots, cranberries, avocado, goat cheese onto the greens. Top toasted almonds and drizzle the dressing overtop, starting with a little and increasing to your taste (note that it is potent from the garlic and sherry vinegar, though I do think the brand I used was extra harsh). Dig in, yum!