Saturday, July 18, 2009
Almost always present in our iceboxes, but often overlooked as an item to be utilized alone, the carrot is now is season at area farm stands and farmers’ markets. At this moment, they are young and sweet, crisp and crunchy when consumed raw, and full of good nutritional elements. It’s true that carrots have beneficial properties relative to your vision, as they are full of beta-carotene, which is metabolized into vitamin A when consumed by humans. Poor vision can be restored by including vitamin A in the diet.
Daucus carota var. sativa is a taproot vegetable consumed by mankind for centuries after the wild carrot was domesticated. It seems to have originated in Afghanistan before traveling westward in an Arab migration to the eastern Mediterranean somewhere in the 8th to 10th century AD. Reportedly when carrots were introduced to America, the otherwise honest natives, who had no flavorful taproots, used to raid the settlers’ gardens for these tasty treats.
While it is a biennial plant, we grow and harvest in its first year when the taproot grows large and stores up sugars for the second season flowering stage. While the common carrot is yellow to orange in color, many varieties today range from red to purple to a pale yellow, almost white carrot, and they can be short and stubby, or long and tapered, or conical or cylindrical, depending on the cultivar.
The first new carrots, usually displayed and sold with their leafy green tops still attached, are tender and full of flavor. They should be enjoyed as a separate dinner item to accompany any roast, steaks, chops or seafood. Be sure to remove the carrot tops promptly or the leaves will draw the carrots’ moisture into themselves, leaving you with limp carrots, which aren’t much good, except for the stockpot. We enjoy them simmered in butter with a little stock, and glazed with a glug of maple syrup and a light dusting of Parmesan cheese.
Later in the season, when the carrots are larger, they lend themselves to roasting in a hot oven, which concentrates their sweetness and carrot flavor. I include finely diced or grated carrots in my Marinara sauce as their sugars counterbalance the tartness of the tomatoes. Carrots should not be scraped or peeled as most of their nutrient value lies in the skin. If you purchase carrots in the supermarket, I do suggest peeling them, as pesticide residues from conventional farming may not be able to be just washed off. If purchased from a local organic farmer, unpeeled, but washed with a stiff vegetable brush, is OK. Late season carrots may have a tough core, so it’s not a bad idea to cut them lengthwise to remove it before proceeding.
A pound of carrots will feed 3 to 4 people and will yield about 3 ½ cups when sliced, diced or quartered. They make a delicious soup, are always added to stews and braised dishes, are essential for stocks, casseroles and sauces, and are part of the triumvirate of basic French vegetable cookery combination miropoix, which also includes diced onion and celery.
In America we love our carrot cake, and ribbons of carrot, made with a vegetable peeler, make a nice impromptu salad when combined with vinaigrette and chopped chervil or parsley. Many add it to their coleslaw, and cabbages are coming into season right now, too.