A few years ago, carrots were like celery and onions, part of many a dish but rarely the star. Maybe you would see them as a side dish, buttered and glazed, or pureed into a soup.
Then one day, roasted heirloom carrots in various colors started appearing in trendy restaurants as an appetizer — or even a main course.
The roots had arrived, earning their place in the farm-to-table pantheon next to the burnished cauliflower and crispy Brussels sprouts.
I'm in full favor of this development, because roasting is one of my favorite ways to cook a carrot. The sweet juices condense in the oven's high heat, turning honeylike and golden. The flesh slackens, the pointy bits char. They are wonderful eaten steaming hot from the oven, and just as good when allowed to cool to room temperature, making them as convenient as they are enticing.
In this extremely pretty recipe, the carrots give heft to a bright, herbal salad shot through with thinly sliced fennel. The arugula and fennel lend a gentle crunch; the carrots give their rich softness. And a bracing dressing spiked with sweet-tart pomegranate molasses lifts all of the elements, bringing them together.
About the pomegranate molasses: If you don't happen to have a bottle, stock up. Available in specialty shops and Middle Eastern groceries, a $5 bottle will keep forever in the pantry and be on hand whenever you want to add sweetness and tang in one quick dash. Or try making your own by simmering down pomegranate juice with a bit of sugar and lemon juice until syrupy.
I regularly grab it when I want to give a salad dressing a touch of sweetness, but when honey would be too sugary. With its high acidity level, pomegranate molasses never gets cloying.
It's also lovely drizzled on grain dishes, grilled meats and pretty much any vegetable that comes out of your oven.
To further bring out the pomegranate flavor in this salad, I add pomegranate seeds as a juicy garnish.
When I'm serving this as a salad course, the garnishes stop there. But to transform it into a light main course, I'll top it with plain yogurt and either nuts or pita chips for a more assertive crunch. Gorgeous roasted carrots don't need any more than that to shine.