Digging Carrots

Written by Eugenia Bone, photo by Ben Fink

For years I was trapped in the mentality that carrots’ primary role in my kitchen was as part of the tripod upon which many Italian dishes stand: carrots, onions, and garlic. These aromatics are known as a battuto (which can include other ingredients as well, like celery and parsley; once cooked, the combo is called a soffritto). But then my local farmer’s market started selling beautiful carrots, bound by a piece of twine and topped with a head of feathery greens that cooked up impossibly tender and sweet: Hardly the working horse carrots that I used to buy in the grocery store. It didn’t take long for me to move beyond the notion that carrots were supporting players in the kitchen and realize that they can, and should be the stars. And not just the root but also the glorious greens as well.

Carrots were cultivated as long ago as the 8th century B.C., in Babylon, but Alan Davidson, author of the Oxford Companion to Food guesses they were cultivated not for the root but for the herby greens. (It is member of the parsley family.) Which is ironic, because today, most people toss the greens. Not only are carrot greens edible, they’re delicious.

When buying carrots with their greens look for bright, moist leaves. Avoid carrots that are rubbery or wrinkly. They should be very firm and smooth (bumpy is okay). Small, immature carrots are less flavorful than mature carrots, but slender, young carrots are best. Since, like beet greens, carrot greens pull moisture from the root, as soon as I get them in the kitchen I separate the greens from the root. The greens can be processed into Carrot Pesto right away, to be served with a piece of grilled meat, poultry, or fish, and the carrots stored in a plastic bag in the fridge (but away from apples, which emit a chemical that can cause off flavors in the carrots). If your carrots get soft or limp you can resuscitate them in cold water; and remove the cores of the old ones, which can be tough.

Lately I have been braising carrots in a little homemade chicken or vegetable stock, white wine, and butter, which is divine, and making an addicting marinara sauce that is super sweet because of all the carrots in it. Indeed, carrots are excellent in deserty recipes. I make a sweet and sour carrot jam that is fantastic on a mozzarella sandwich, and often add shredded carrots to muffin batters for flavor and texture.

And that’s just getting started. I pressure can carrots to have on hand for quick soufflés, make clean tasting slaws with shredded carrots and feta cheese, cook veal stew with nubby “Paris Market” cultivars that are the same size as the hunks of meat, whip up creamy carrot soup, and of course, every once in a while, a glorious carrot cake, redolent with the spices carrots love: ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Now, when I go to the market I don’t buy carrots to make dinner.

I buy carrots to be dinner.

1 pound of fresh carrots, or 5 to 7 medium-sized carrots, equals about 2 cups of shredded or sliced carrots. Since there is little shrinkage, 2 cups of shredded carrots equals about 2 cups of cooked carrots. One 6-inch carrot produces about 70 ml of juice.

Carrot Preserving
Carrots have a pH between 5.88 and 6.40, way too alkaline for water bath processing unless you acidify. But honestly, there is nothing you can’t do with carrots. They make great pickles, which you can process in a water bath. http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/pickled_carrots.html You can preserve them in water in a pressure canner. http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_04/carrots_sliced.html You can freeze carrots by peeling and blanching in boiling water for 2 to 5 minutes depending on whether you are freezing pieces or whole carrots, and then pack into freezer bags. You can root cellar carrots (don’t wash: remove the greens but leave a stub a couple of inches long and pack in straw or moist sand). At 32ºF they will keep for about 6 months. And you can dry carrots. Boil for 4 minutes, and then dry at 135°F in your dehydrator until brittle.

Carrots And Eye Sight
The reason why it is said that carrots are good for your eyes is based on World War II propaganda released by the British Royal Air Force which published a story saying that one of its fighter pilots could see so well in the dark due to his diet of carrots. Eating carrots won’t cure your myopia but they do contain beta-carotene (it’s what colors carrots orange), which we metabolized into vitamin A, an important nutrient for eye health.

Eugenia Bone is a cook and author whose stories and recipes have appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country including The New York Times Magazine to Saveur, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Fine Cooking, The Wine Enthusiast, Martha Stewart Living, and The Wall Street Journal, among many others. She is the author of 5 books, among them Italian Family Dining, and Well Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Food (nominated for a James Beard award); Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms, and The Kitchen Ecosystem: Integrating Recipes to Create Delicious Meals. Visit Eugenia’s blog, KitchenEcosystem.com.

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