Carrots are one of my favorite winter vegetables, right up there with red cabbage. And if we are talking about roasted carrots, they are in the running for my favorite food, ever. They are especially good in a hearty winter salad with apples, Gorgonzola and spinach and it's my 'go to' salad when there is a roasted chicken in the oven or beef stew braising on the stove. A friend of mine gave me a jar of apple essence (basically cider boiled down a molasses consistency) and I fell in love. It is the essence of everything I love about cider but in a rich and deeply flavored syrup. I've used it in all sorts of ways but my favorite (so far) is in the salad dressing for this winter salad— it has just enough of the sweetness and bite of apple cider to add a little 'je ne sais quoi' to my salad dressing.
I worked my way through the jar Ellen gave me and have since made another two batches of apple essence. It's a remarkably easy and hands off task. Place a gallon of apple cider in a large, heavy bottomed pan and boil it down until it reaches a deep mahogany color with the consistency of molasses. It keeps for at least 2- 3 months in the refrigerator and if you canned it, it will keep indefinitely in your pantry. Trust me, it's worth it. Apple essence will become your secret weapon in the kitchen and it makes a kick-ass salad dressing. And who doesn't need that in their quiver?
Winter Salad with Apple Essence Dressing
1 bag of spinach
1/2 head of red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 apple, Gala or Cortland
6 carrots. peeled and sliced lengthwise into 4 inch pieces
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Gorgonzola, crumbled
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 tbsp. apple essence (boiled cider) takes 4 - 6 hours to reduce, plan accordingly
4 tbsp. maple syrup
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
3/4 cup sherry vinegar (can substitute apple cider vinegar)
1 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. salt
1/2 tbsp. black pepper
Place a gallon of fresh apple cider (from the refrigerated section, do not use the shelf stable apple cider) in a heavy bottomed stockpot or dutch oven and heat to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally. The apple essence is finished when it has reduced to about 2 cups and coats the back of a spoon. Place in a clean container and store in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the carrots with the olive oil, salt and pepper and place in a parchment lined sheet tray. Roast for about 30 minutes or until browned and tender. Set aside.
Place the spinach, apples, red cabbage, red onion, roasted carrots and Gorgonzola in a salad bowl and toss to combine.
In a medium bowl, combine the minced garlic, apple cider essence, maple syrup, Dijon, sherry vinegar, olive oil and 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 1/2 tablespoon of pepper. Whisk vigorously to thoroughly combine and pour the dressing over the salad. Serve immediately.