Roasting vegetables is one of the best ways to bring out their natural flavor.
The process also brings out their natural sugars, which caramelize and create a crispy coating.
One plate that pulled this technique off perfectly is a carrot dish I enjoyed during a Top 10 Takeover dinner at Ale Mary’s in Royal Oak, Mich. The dish consisted of a slightly charred trio of carrots served with carrot and date puree.
When Ale Mary’s chef, Norman Fenton, stopped by our table to chat, the first question guests asked him was about the carrots.
Fenton explained it’s all about treating ingredients simply and not overthinking the dish. Using the best-quality ingredients is also paramount.
I finally caught up with Fenton to talk about the carrots and how home cooks can make them.
Ale Mary’s dish featured orange, yellow and purple carrots, but you can use any variety. Just be sure to scrub them well and don’t peel them.
Next, cut the carrots in half lengthwise and then in half crosswise and place them in a bowl. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Drizzle the carrot slices with olive oil, salt and black pepper, a sprinkle of brown sugar and a good pinch of cumin. Roast them for about 8 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the carrots.
“We roast them really hard so they have a crispy outside and are soft in the center,” Fenton told me when I asked him about the high cooking temperature.
To make the carrot puree, Fenton said he takes carrot scraps (the ends you might trim off when making this dish or another) and puts them in a sauce pot. Then he adds heavy cream (enough to just about cover the carrots), coriander seeds and cardamom pods and heats the mixture gently over low heat for about 45 minutes.
“Use low heat because it helps bring out the carrot flavor,” he said.
Once the carrots are soft, separate them from the cream and then strain the cream to remove and discard the cardamom pods and coriander seeds. In a blender, puree the softened carrots with the cream. Once pureed, season the puree with salt, pepper and powdered sugar. The carrot puree texture should be light and fluffy, just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (and have a soft peak).
The powdered sugar surprised me. But Fenton said the powdered sugar will melt right into the puree and not change the texture.
“Regular (granulated) sugar would make it gritty and corn syrup would make it too loose,” he said.
To make the date puree, Fenton rehydrates dried dates in hot water until soft. He then blends the softened dates with a vanilla paste (or a touch of pure vanilla extract) and 2 tablespoons of flambéed rum and purees until smooth.
The dish is finished off with toasted and chopped walnuts, a touch of ground cardamom and micro beet greens.
Fenton said it’s all about using proper technique and respecting ingredients.
“It was a simple dish, but it was the technique that made it,” he said.
Test Kitchen is Tribune News Service column by Susan Selasky, the food writer and Test Kitchen director for the Detroit Free Press, where she develops and tests recipes and answers readers’ questions about all things food. Contact her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanMariecooks