Meat-Free Grilling Series #2: Grilled Carrots, Pickled Fennel, Carrot Top Crème Fraîche

Grilled carrots are rich, flavorful, and smoky, so they don't need much more than a generous sprinkling of salt and a squeeze of (preferably grilled) fresh lemon once they come off the grill! But if you want something a little more suited to salad/appetizer status, this recipe does the trick. Grilling carrots is a great way to add depth and flavor to a vegetable that can sometimes be a little too common and boring. I always have carrots in my fridge for snacking (specifically, dipping carrot sticks into Edmond Fallot mustard), but I desperately needed to get out of this snack rut. 

I love the presentation of this dish because it allows people to create their own little plate. It can be put together in a myriad of ways and I always love that option...

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GRILLED CARROTS

1 bunch (approx. 6) carrots, with tops attached
2 tbsp. olive oil or neutral cooking oil
Sea salt, to taste
1-2 cups arugula
2 tbsp. hazelnuts, lightly toasted and roughly chopped

Heat up an outdoor grill or a grill pan on your stove on high heat. 

Wash carrots and greens, then cut off all but about 2 inches of the green tops. Set the tops aside. I don't peel my carrots because they're organic and I think it's a waste, since there's nothing wrong with the skins! (but if you're not using organic carrots, go ahead and peel them)

Cut the carrots in half lengthwise (smaller, skinnier carrots can be left whole) and toss in a large bowl with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. 

Grill on both sides until you see nice grill marks and the carrots are tender, but not mushy. 

Assemble:

On a large plate, create a bed with the arugula and place the grilled carrots on top. Garnish with chopped hazelnuts. Serve carrot top dressing (below) and pickled fennel (below) on the side, which allows people to make their own salad! 

Note: If you don't have pickled fennel, substitute: thinly sliced/shaved fennel tossed in a bowl with a sprinkle of salt and freshly-squeezed lemon juice. Let this sit for at least 30 min. until fennel is soft. 

CARROT TOP CRÈME FRAÎCHE

1/2 cup crème fraîche (homemade! see below)
1 tbsp. carrot tops, finely chopped
1 tbsp. arugula, finely chopped
1 tsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp. freshly-grated lemon zest
Pinch of cayenne pepper 
Salt, to taste

In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients together until well-combined. Taste for seasoning. 

When testing this recipe, all of my guinea pigs preferred to spoon a dollop of the crème fraîche onto their plates because thinning it out into a dressing and tossing everything together just lost some of that indulgence factor. Play around with it until you reach a consistency that you love!

HOMEMADE CRÈME FRAÎCHE

Heavy cream + buttermilk + 12 hours = homemade crème fraîche!

If you're not familiar with how ridiculously easy it is to make crème fraîche at home, I hope you'll give this a try! All you need to do is combine 1 cup heavy cream or whipping cream and 2 tbsp. buttermilk in a bowl or container and let it sit overnight at room temperature (for 12-14 hours) until thickened. Keep in mind that, at room temperature, it will still be a pourable consistency, so cover the container and place in the refrigerator for a few hours until cold. It should be thick, rich, and creamy, just like any expensive crème fraîche that you'll find at the market! (But you'll get the satisfaction of casually saying, "oh yes, I made this myself")

PICKLED FENNEL

I have this thing about pickling and fermenting things. I love the process... and pickled fennel is one of my favorites because I usually just pull together all of my fennel scraps to turn it into something that adds great freshness and acidity to a dish! I use pickled fennel in salad dressings, on veggie burgers, to garnish a piece of seared fish, or even mixed in with other pickles (cucumbers, radishes, cauliflower, etc.) as a snack.

1 medium-large fennel bulb,  very thinly sliced
3/4 cup Champagne vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
1 whole star anise
1 garlic clove
pinch of red pepper flakes
2-inch strip of fresh lemon rind

Bring vinegar, water, sugar, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add peppercorns, fennel seeds, star anise, garlic and red pepper flakes to the pot and allow to cool slightly. 

Meanwhile, place the strip of lemon rind on the bottom of a glass pint jar and top with shaved fennel. I packed the fennel pretty tightly into the jar and was left with a small gap between the fennel and the rim of the jar, which is good - it allows the fennel to swim more freely in the brine. 

When the picking brine is still warm, but cool enough to touch, pour over the fennel to the top of the jar. You might have some liquid left over, but be sure all of the spices end up in the jar. 

Allow to sit overnight or up to one week.