There is something about a fresh carrot that captures the imagination. Perhaps it is the smell, or the biennial nature of the plant, and maybe the knowledge that pulling a vibrant orange root from the earth is like taking a life in the midst of its prime.
Like an egg, the taproot is what the plant has tucked away for reproduction. If left in the ground, the orange store will grow a new rosette of leaves come spring, and a stalk of pure, white flowers in the heat of summer.
Oddly enough, it was the seeds and aromatic leaves of the plant, not the sugars, that we originally coveted. Like its cousin fennel, it offered leaves and seeds to season the pot. The carefully bred roots of the western Chantenay and Danvers didn't find their way in until hundreds of years later.
When holding such a marvel of history fresh in hand, it seems a shame to let it go to waste in winter recipes for soups or roasts. But sticks, too, can become monotonous, and so it is that I began to search out a recipe that would sacrifice neither crunch nor flavor.
I first got the idea for this one from Molly's Orangette, found tucked into a post musing over the loss of acceptable airline meals and possible substitutes. While I wasn't hopping on a plane, I was planning to bicycle to the green in town for a late afternoon picnic, a venture that merited many of the same requirements.
Hers was a French salad, simple, of grated carrots and a slightly tangy lemon-oil dressing. I checked the index of my only French cookbook, Chez Nous, and found a different twist on the European favorite with red wine vinegar and a touch of oregano. Consulting both, I came up with a version of my own: thin carrots, grated onion, cider vinegar, and a sprinkling of hand-picked thyme. While it made the journey, it didn't last long in the shade of the green.
SHAVED CARROT SALAD
Using the thin blades of a grater, grate 1 pound carrots and one quarter of a fresh white onion. Toss in a serving bowl with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 3 tablespoons white or cider vinegar, a generous sprinkling of fresh ground pepper, salt to taste, and the pickings from several sprigs fresh thyme. Can be eaten at room temperature or chilled; travels well.