Roasted Roots & Chilled Fruit: Brilliant Vegetables from an Offal Aficionado
March 22, 2014 § 1 Comment
The book was brought to my attention last year, as I followed the progress of my all-time favorite tournament, The Piglet. For those of you not familiar, The Piglet is a contest between the hottest cookbooks of the year- judged by acclaimed food writers, chefs and celebrities in a series of exciting rounds, each round eliminating another potential winner. Naturally, I am a roller-coaster of emotions throughout the whole process- feeling all the anticipation, thrill, heart-wrenching disappointment, and triumphant joy of the most ardent sports fan.
April Bloomfield’s winning book, A Girl and Her Pig, is arresting to say the least. Chef-owner of critically acclaimed The Spotted Pig in New York and Tosca Café in San Francisco, Bloomfield is renowned for her predilection for the odder animal bits like offal and pig’s ears. It may come as no surprise then that her book cover sports a portrait of the chef-author wearing an artistically draped and very dead pig around her shoulders- I was still somewhat mortified.
As someone who cooks almost exclusively vegetarian food, this was not a particularly inviting introduction. I approached the vegetable recipes behind that cover with a certain degree of trepidation, expecting little to excite me in the vegetable repertoire of a chef primarily associated with hoofs and tripe.
I was utterly mistaken. No single chef thus far has impressed me so deeply as Bloomfield; the thoughtful and provocative dishes she instructs the reader through lead to what can only be described as vegetal epiphanies.
To begin with, Bloomfield’s dressings are nothing short of genius. Her Lemon Caper Dressing is the most compelling reason I can think of that one should make a great event out of eating little gem lettuce, or any lettuce at all for that matter. Incorporating whole segments of lemon into olive oil, shallots, mustard, capers and a dash of sugar created a sharp, exciting dressing that has been referred to affectionately as a “shockingly brash dressing” (Kristen Miglore, for Food 52).
The salad I am leading up to today is not a particularly familiar interpretation of the term. Instead it is a fusion of comforting roasted roots and chilled, utterly refreshing fruit. Every aspect of its making is done from raw ingredients in their crudest state- some are toasted and ground, some made into a paste, some steam-roasted and some merely supremed. This thoughtful and involved approach, pulling together many seemingly incongruous ingredients, is naturally fascinating to the curious cook. But most importantly, the brief list of ingredients makes creating this dish in your own home within easy reach.
Because I have been on crutches since last Wednesday, and unable to remain standing on one leg for longer than twenty minutes, I made this today mostly sitting. Cradled in my lap first was the mortar & pestle- grinding toasted spices and crushing the garlic to a paste. As the carrots steam-roasted I switched out that little granite bowl for a stainless steel one in which to slice avocados and supreme oranges (for my mother’s sake I should add: I kept the injured leg propped up and to the side of my prep table all the while). This is to say- if I can make this for lunch while keeping one leg elevated above my heart during the process, surely you can do so with both feet on the ground. And surely you should, because Bloomfield is coming out with a new book soon, all about vegetables, and after tasting this salad you are going to want to pre-order it just as soon as you can.
Carrot, Avocado, and Orange Salad
from April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig
- 4 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- Maldon sea salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
- 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground
- 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 30 or so similarly sized (each about the size of your pointer finger) young carrots, not peeled
- 3 tennis-ball-sized oranges
- 3 ripe Hass avocados, chilled
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- A handful of cilantro sprigs
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Pound the garlic with a healthy pinch of salt in a mortar until you have a wet, fairly smooth paste. Put the paste in a large mixing bowl. Add the cumin, coriander, chilies, and 1/4 cup of the olive oil and stir well, then add the carrots and toss well so they’re coated with the oil and spices. Sprinkle on 3 healthy pinches of salt, crushing the grains with your fingers as you add them, and toss again.
Put the carrots in a large shallow baking dish in one layer. Scrape out the extra garlic, spices, and oil from the bowl and spread evenly on top of the carrots. Pour 1/4 cup water into an empty spot in the casserole (you don’t want to wash off the tasty oily stuff) and tilt the dish so the water spreads across the bottom.
Cover the dish tightly with foil and put it in the oven. Cook the carrots for 25 minutes. Take off the foil and keep cooking until the carrots are lightly browned, and about as tender and creamy as avocado flesh, but not so soft that they threaten to fall apart, about 35 minutes more.
While the carrots are roasting, segment the orange as you would a lemon. Squeeze the membranes into a small bowl to release the juice. Set it aside.
When the carrots are done, take the dish out of the oven and let it sit until the carrots have cooled a bit but are still warm.
Meanwhile, take the avocados from the fridge. Halve them lengthwise, remove the pits, and peel the halves. Cut the flesh lengthwise into slices about the same size as the carrots—the slices should be sturdy enough that they don’t break up when you toss them.
Put the avocado slices in a large mixing bowl and add the reserved orange juice, the lemon juice, the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and a healthy pinch or two of salt. Toss gently and well with your hands. Push the avocado to one side of the bowl. Add the carrots. Make sure to scrape out and add all the garlicky spices left in the baking dish. Toss it all together gently, being careful not to break the avocado slices.
Stack the carrots, avocado, and orange segments on a platter or in a serving bowl so they’re facing this way and that. Top with the cilantro and serve right away.