Let me begin by telling you that carrots are probably my least favourite vegetable - okay, actually mashed swede is my least favourite, but carrots are a close second. As a child I positively loathed & detested them, and many a "you're not leaving this table until you've eaten your carrots" battle was mounted as I tried to assert my early culinary independence - I think the triumphs were fairly evenly divided between parents and child, depending on whatever hidden agenda either party might have had at the time. If I gave in fairly quickly and ate the carrots (trying not to gag on every mouthful), then you could be pretty certain that I was doing a "suck-up" for something else that seemed infinitely more important to me at the time - parents of course never see through that kind of stuff, yeah right!!
Anyway, as I've suggested, I'm not fond of carrots in most forms. A raw carrot is ok, quite palatable, but generally not something I'd seek out or really bother with. Roasted carrots, on the other hand, I positively love (go figure), and a roast to me is not complete without them. Boiled or steamed carrots - absolutely loathsome - just never grew out of it! Soups and stews - I use carrots in these all the time for the flavour they impart, and can't imagine making something like that without them, but when it comes to eating the finished dish, as much as possible I eat around the bits of carrots - I don't pick every last little bit out (I'm not quite that bad), but I just avoid them as much as possible.
So when one of our assignments this month for the Cooking Italy group was the Shredded Carrot Salad from Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" I confess to being somewhat ambivalent about it. I politely excused myself on the basis that it's not "salad season" here right now. Actually, this group is pretty cool, and you don't really need an excuse if you don't like something; everyone understands if you just come right out and say it. But it's not so much that I don't like a carrot salad - I just can't get excited about it.
Needless to say then, I was somewhat surprised when I was fishing around in the veggie crisper of my fridge today, looking for lunch and a carrot leapt into my hand literally screaming "pick me, pick me"! "I don't want you" my mind told the carrot. "Oh, yes you do" replied the carrot, "and, some of that rocket, too". Ah, so that's what the carrot really wanted - it just wanted to get friendly with my rocket (that's arugula to some of you folks on the other side of the world - in case you were wondering). Well, let me tell you, the rocket that I got at the farmers' market on the weekend is so good (actually, quite possibly the best I have ever had) that if I were a vegetable I would want to get very friendly with it too. But, carrot and rocket? Not a pairing that immediately jumps to mind, but who am I to keep them apart if they're intent on each other.
Well, let's just see what's in this Carrot Salad recipe of Marcella's (if you have the book it's on page 549). The recipe calls for nothing more than shredded carrot, salt, extra virgin olive oil, and lemon juice - hunnph, well that's nothing to get excited about! Ok, I see she has a variation which includes rocket, but in which she replaces the lemon juice with red wine vinegar.
I decided I wanted the rocket, but (being the contrary soul that I am) I also wanted to stick with the lemon juice rather than the red wine vinegar. Whilst I can't vouch for what the red wine vinegar would have tasted like, I can tell you that the lemon juice was a pretty darn good choice. This must surely be the simplest salad on the planet to make - this is what I did.
Tear up some rocket leaves, and put them in your serving bowl.
Grate your carrot (I used one carrot for lunch for one person), using the largest holes on your grater. Add the shredded carrot to the rocket leaves in your bowl.
Add the zest and juice of half a lemon (the zest is not called for in the original recipe, but why deprive yourself of it, and I think it really enhances the lemony taste without the sharpness that can come from too much juice).
Sprinkle over some flaky sea salt.
Drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil.
Toss everything together well, taste and adjust seasoning with more salt or lemon juice if necessary.
Much to my surprise, this was astonishingly good. Not just ok - but actually very good. I loved the pepperiness of the rocket with the sweetness of the carrots and the tang of the lemon. Marcella says to serve this straight away, but I actually let mine stand for about 45 minutes, and I think that was a good thing - the result was that some of the juice ran out of the carrots, and mixed in the bottom of the bowl with the olive oil and lemon juice, leaving me with a little puddle of delectableness that was so delicious I picked up the bowl and drank it, and then actually licked the bowl clean (one of the joys of eating lunch alone)! This salad was so good, in fact, that it is distinctly possible that I will have this for lunch again tomorrow - now that's really surprising!
This salad is beautifully light and refreshing - would be a great inclusion for a summer barbeque; or, as I discovered, makes a pleasing and healthy lunch on an "almost spring" day - rocket is a rich source of calcium, manganese, copper, iron, potassium, folic acid, and vitamins A, C and K, while the beta-carotene in carrots is an anti-oxident that combats the free radicals which contribute to heart disease, cancer and deterioration of eyesight. I swear I could literally feel this salad doing me good while I ate it!
I'm a great believer that, if we really tune in, eating is a very instinctual thing - when you listen your body tells you what it needs. So the next time you suddenly develop an eye for something you would ordinarily leave behind, there's a good chance that you are being offered something that your body is needing. Take heed, and you may be pleasantly surprised.
Do visit my Cooking Italy page to learn more about the group (maybe you'd even like to join in - you don't have to have a blog to join the group and cook along with everyone else), find links to other members of the group, and links to all the Cooking Italy recipes I've cooked so far.
I'm also submitting this post to the Two for Tuesdays blog hop.