While Ben and I were browsing the most amazing bookstore I’ve ever seen in Buenos Aires, I stumbled upon an absolute gem of a cookbook. Siete Fuegos, written by famous Argentine chef Francis Mallman, draws on his upbringing in Patagonia, cooking over outdoor fires with gauchos. It’s fresh and authentic, and I loved it as soon as I flipped it open.I didn’t have room in my carry-on only luggage to buy the book and carry it home, but I jotted down a few ideas and vowed to look it up when I got back. It was beautifully photographed and I sighed a little, jealous of people whose lifestyles let them spend whole days, weekends even, cooking over outdoor fires. Back in the States, Ben’s emails started arriving, describing the Uruguayan vineyard in which he’s spending the harvest. Everything sounded a little familiar, and I realized that Ben is living the Uruguay version of Siete Fuegos.
We went for a swim after work, and then lounged around in the shade of the courtyard [...] At this point, they started getting the fire ready in the massive parilla (giant outdoor grill) and we soon enjoyed the smell of onions, eggplants, chorizo, morcella (blood sausage) and huge cuts of beef grilling slow and steady. By dusk, we all sat out in the courtyard at one long table and ate and drank for the next two hours.
Feeling a little left out of the parilla party, I turned back to my notes and Mallman’s book and found this. One of the great things about the book is its total shameless embrace of “burnt” everything. There are specific instructions to throw ingredients—cheese, veggies, meat, even pastries and desserts—onto the hot parilla (grill) and not move them until they get good and charred. Spanish has a much smaller lexicon than English, without our silly euphemisms like “charred” and “blackened”, so they’re all simply “burnt”, like this recipe for “burnt carrots” with “burnt goat cheese” I like it. It’s honest. This recipe unlocks a special secret that carrots have always had but we never knew. I’ve had roasted carrots, but they don’t come close to approximating the complex flavor of these. They’re laid on a very hot cast iron skillet, grill pan, or if you’re lucky, a grill over a real fire, until they’re blackened more than you might think is wise, and then tossed in a tangy vinagrette. It is probably my favorite salad or side dish I’ve had in years.
Charred carrots with griddled goat cheese
This is adapted fairly liberally from Francis Mallman’s recipe in Siete Fuegos—he serves the carrots over arugula for more of a salad; I like them by themselves with more focus on the parsley as a sort of side dish. I’ve written the instructions to include the option of serving over greens.
You will need
- For the carrots:
1 bunch of carrots (about 1 pound, or about 8 large carrots)
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the vinaigrette:
2-3 tablespoons good apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg’s)
1/4 cup olive oil
For the griddled goat cheese:
3-ounce log of soft, creamy goat cheese, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
4 cups peppery greens, such as arugula (optional)
- Scrub the carrots. Remove tops and ends, and slice then down the middle, and then again so that they form long batons. You’re looking for thick sticks here, bigger than the type of carrot sticks we’d put in a lunchbox. Toss the carrots in the one tablespoon olive oil and a few pinches of salt, and set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup olive oil. Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
If serving as a salad with greens, pile the salad greens on a big platter or on individual plates.
Heat a cast iron skillet or grill pan over high heat until very hot. Arrange the carrots in a single layer in a skillet with one of their flat sides down. After they’ve been placed, don’t move them. After 3-5 minutes, when the carrots begin to blacken, turn them a bit. Cook longer, allowing them to char on another side and cook through, another 3-5 minutes. There may be some smoke, so turn on your fan in your oven hood if you have one.
Remove the carrots from the skillet and place on platter or individual plates (if you’re using salad greens, these will go on top of the greens). Turn off the heat, and add an additional one tablespoon olive oil to the skillet and swirl to coat. Bring to very high temperature, and lay the goat cheese rounds on the skillet. Be careful, it may spatter a bit. When the cheese rounds have formed a brown-black crust on the bottom, use a fork or thin spatula to scoop them up. Invert the rounds on top of the carrots which have been plated.
Drizzle everything with the vinaigrette, and sprinkle very liberally with parsley. Serve warm.