Nutty Baked Carrots
Carrots are a staple for us, and for many people, especially in winter. They’re readily available in every grocery store, they’re cheap, farmer’s markets may have them even in February, they’re highly nutritious, they’re cheap, even the corner convenience store with some rusty lettuce and sprouting onions is likely to have moderately decent carrots, and did I mention that they are cheap and easy to find even in the dead of winter?
But many of us grew up hating cooked carrots, because we’d only had them boiled half to death – mushy and tasteless. We liked them raw, and they were fine in soups and stews (where they picked up as much flavor as they lost, in the cooking process) but by themselves… no. But they can, in fact, be delicious. The trick is finding a way to cook them until they are just tender, without losing flavor.
Today I’m sharing a recipe for baked carrots that has been morphing in my hands over the years. I know I was cooking it in its original form many years ago, when I was a volunteer with Cooperative Extension in New Jersey, and we presented a demonstration of vegetable recipes. That version was tossed with bread crumbs and baked – and people who swore they couldn’t stand cooked carrots snapped them up.
I never really used bread crumbs much in cooking – I never did have the canister of dried Seasoned Bread Crumbs that was a staple in the kitchens of many of my friends. I often had a jar of Toasted Wheat Germ in the fridge, though – I used it for the nutty taste in pancakes and the like – so I would substitute it for the bread crumbs, and I liked the result. So for years, these were Wheat Germ Coated Carrots.
Well, now… I’m not eating wheat germ, and I don’t really have a bread, yet. I mean, I guess there’s no reason I couldn’t crumb muffins… but I haven’t tried that. I wanted to make these, though. And the Pecan Crusted Pork Chops certainly worked well. I have almonds in the house…
Directions for Nutty Baked Carrots
If I already had commercial almond meal, I’d just use that. I don’t. It might be nice to have some handy… So I decided to just grind my almonds, and then measure out the meal, instead of measuring and grinding a handful of almonds. These are raw, whole almonds – I buy them in 2 pound bags for cooking purposes. I could have blanched them (or used blanched almonds) but I don’t find that the very faint bitterness of the skins in a problem for this recipe, or anything I’m likely to do with the meal. (For some dishes it would be…) So I just filled up my mini processor with almonds, and whirred away – pulsing, and periodically stirring the chopped almonds down. I stopped when they were still a bit coarse – you may want a finer texture. (Or not… I’ll discuss that later.)
I took a quarter of a cup of the almond meal and placed it in a shallow, flat container, and added a sprinkle of salt. Then I took some carrots, scrubbed and trimmed them, and cut them into sticks – not as thin as matchsticks. I cut them in half across, then cut the thin ends in quarters, and the thicker ends – usually – in sixths (trying to keep the size moderately consistent.) Then I tossed them in just a drizzle of oil so the nuts would cling to them. (I used olive oil – but if you happen to use nut oils, this would be a nice place for them.) I dropped a few into the nuts and shook the container to coat them, transferred them to the baking pan, and continued with the rest. I used to use a paper bag to shake these in – which is certainly easier, but I don’t have as many bags handy any more. You could try that, or you could use a container with a lid, so you don’t shake the nut meal over your kitchen. (I think I edited that out of the pictures…)
I did notice that, as my meal was uneven – coarse and fine, both – the first carrots I put in picked up the finest almond flour, and the later ones were less well coated with crunchier bits of nuts. This would probably not be an issue with commercial meal. The variation in texture didn’t bother us, but… if I were serving to guests, for example… I might either grind longer for a more consistent meal, or sift it. I suppose that if I were really finicky I could sift it, and coat them first in the fine flour and then in the crunchy nuts – but I don’t know how well that would work, and I honestly am not likely to bother.
As I do so often, cooking for just the two of us, I used the countertop oven. These are just a little more crowded than is ideal – though it worked, the coating was not quite as crisp as if they had been set with more space between them. I had preheated the oven to 350, and then baked them for 20 minutes, and took them out and tested to see if they were done. We like a tender-crisp carrot, so they were done to our taste, but one or two of the thicker ones were more crisp than tender… All right for our taste, but you may want 25-30 minutes instead.
Carrots have themselves are so sweet and full of good flavor, that any treatment that doesn’t wash it away is delicious. Highlighting that flavor with a touch of almond crunch brings them up out of the ordinary, and helps feature a vegetable that is sometimes taken for granted.