cranking up the heat

In the realm of baking, 350 is a comfortable number. It’s the tried and true temp for producing moist quickbreads, gooey brownies, and tender cookies. As a kid, I was schooled in the world of baking long before I ventured into the arena of savory cooking, and for most of my childhood, I thought that temperatures above the 300s were reserved for the oven cleaning mode or some horribly hazardous activities.

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I distinctly remember the first time I cooked something at 400 degrees. I was in middle school. The recipe was for Rachael Ray’s oven fries. My mom was at work. My dad was busy with his tools in the garage. With no one around, I cranked the oven dial past the 350 mark and set it squarely on 400. I felt a rush of rebellion. The potato wedges quickly crisped to a golden brown before anyone could see the dangerously high temperatures with which I was playing. I had discovered the joy of roasting, and there was no turning back.
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These days, roasting is one of my techniques for cooking all manner of things. Carrots are a natural fit for high-heat cooking and have become my favorite vegetable to roast. For this recipe, I first thought about cooking them at 425, but on a whim, let the dial creep up to 475. I figured it would save me some time, and potentially add a bit more color to the carrots. I tossed the half-moon slices in a generous glug of olive oil and threw them into the fiery oven as I prepared the rest of the salad components: a lemon harissa dressing (inspired by this great book), quinoa with golden raisins, and wilted rainbow chard. Within 30 minutes, everything was ready for assembly, and I opened the oven to find 475-degree-kissed perfection: the carrots were caramelized, tender but not too soft, and had a beautiful amber hue. I mixed everything together and topped the salad with fresh mint and a handful of chopped walnuts for a weeks worth of filling lunches. Even when eaten cold, the sweet smokiness from the roasted carrots really shone through.

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Whether you’re reading this from chilly Iowa or steamy Miami, I urge you to crank up the heat higher than usual and bask in the pleasures of roasting.

Roasted Carrot Salad with Harissa Lemon Dressing

Roasted carrots:
4 large carrots
3 tbsp olive oil
salt

Preheat oven to 475. Peel and cut carrots into half moons. Toss carrots with olive oil and a couple shakes of salt and spread on a foil lined baking sheet. Roast for 30-40 minutes, tossing halfway through and then every 10 minutes after that until tender and caramelized in some spots.

Quinoa:
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
¼ cup golden raisins

Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan on high heat, covered with a lid. When contents come to a boil, reduce heat to medium high and cook for 10-15 minutes, until water is completely absorbed and quinoa is al dente.

Chard:
1 large head rainbow chard (or any other dark green)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
Zest of a lemon

In a large pot over medium heat, saute chard and garlic in olive oil for about 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until wilted and slightly cooked down, but still retaining some bite. Add lemon zest and remove from heat.

Dressing:
1 lemon
2 tbsp harissa
1 tbsp honey
⅛ tsp cumin
3 tbsp olive oil

Combine lemon zest and juice, harissa, honey, and cumin in a small bowl. Add olive oil and whisk vigorously to emulsify the dressing.

To assemble:
½ cup chopped fresh mint
Handful of chopped walnuts
salt and pepper to taste

Combine cooked quinoa, roasted carrots, cooked chard, dressing, mint, and walnuts in a large bowl (or save a dish and use the chard pot) and stir until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy warm or cold. Keeps well in the fridge.

Other tasty add-in ideas: feta cheese, 1 can of drained garbanzos, chopped or shredded cooked chicken

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