Produce of the Week - Carrots
sponsored by Coleman Farms
This week it's back to that boring Old World and Carrots. Carrots are a pretty handy vegetable: they put up with poor soil and cold weather, and in really cold climates they can be easily stored through the Winter by "clamping", packing them in sand, then covering with earth. Today in French grocers you're often given the choice between just carrots and 'sablees', or sandy ones, which this time of year are meant to be fresher and keep better.
Apart from their well-known properties as a visual aid (their antioxidant beta-carotene is the basis of our vitamin A, which helps night blindness and possibly other retina problems), Carrots are high in sugar and in fiber.
Carrots have lots of uses, raw, or cooked. The absolutely unadorned raw carrot has a place in bag lunches as a vegetable 'side' and tooth cleaner; cut in strips it's a regular in crudities. The sweetness and flavor of carrots make them prominent in juicing: straight carrot juice is close in flavor to orange juice, only without the acidity, and will compliment other bolder input such as the Kales, Beet or Dandelion. And there are more elaborate ways with raw Carrot, such as in salad - alone, say grated and dressed with yoghurt, nuts, raisins and a bit of orange juice, or in combination with other roots and leaves in a 'slaw' as simple or complex as you like.
Cooked Carrots are useful in lots of ways. They can be steamed served as a side dish. A nice way to serve baby carrots is steam to al dente, drain the pan, drop in a bit of butter and fresh Rosemary, and swirl around for a minute or two. They mix well with any root vegetable and their texture and sweetness can be a nice feature of stew or mixed vegetables. You can cook (steam or boil) carrots and then puree them, to make a soup base, for example, or to use in baking: you can make a very nice 'pumpkin' pie from Carrots, and can be reduced to make jam.
Americans usuall discard Carrot tops, or take them home for their bunny or livestock, and I've heard people say the tops are poisonous. But on one day when I heard this, I also spoke to two French customers who planned to use the tops in soup stock.
A nice way to make a nearly main dish of carrots is to braise them together with Parsnips. Cut both Carrots and Parsnips lengthwise, with a triangular or rougly square cross section (if the Parsnips are large, you'll have to cut them to this way, with roughly half-inch sides on the square; you may also want to peel large parsnips, but it's nicer to get younger ones, if you can). In a large skillet with a cover, put a bit of olive oil, and some garlic, if you like that. Heat the oil but not a lot, and put in the prepared vegetables. What you're aiming to do is cook them slowly, covered, so that they more or less steam, but also brown a bit on the outside - actually caramalize the sugary juice. It can be tricky getting the temperature right (about 325 if you have an electric skillet), and you'll want to watch and turn them often, as both vegetables are high in sugar and can scorch.
Rudy Domingo, just two stalls down from Coleman Farms at the Saturday market, has very nice Carrots, quite large but very tender and tasty. Many other vendors have Carrots at all the Santa Barbara County markets.