This is the year of the carrot.
When fresh bought, carrots are crispy, aromatic, and slightly minty, and they are a rockin’ vessel of vitamins (go on and read about the nutritional value of a carrot!) I know what you’re thinking and no, I do not work for the National Carrot Association of America, perhaps I should! I’m joking there is no such thing, or is there?
Think of the following flavors; parsnip, fennel, parsley, anise, caraway, cumin and dill, doesn’t it make sense that the carrot is related to all of these wonderful plants? Now go ahead and bite into a carrot and experience these wonderful flavors as they all burst in your mouth one by one. No wonder carrots are essential to the traditional French Mirepoix; Carrots, Celery and Onion (a Mirepoix is the basic ingredients [aromatics] in stocks, soups and sauces.
My grandmother always put a carrot and an onion in her tomatoes sauce to sweeten and balance the acidity of the tomatoes.
So let’s talk carrot usage. Make a carrot cake or muffins. Try making the Indian dessert Gaajar Kaa Halwaa. Or add them to your salad. Grate them and make a carrot salad with apples and raisins. Do what my grandmother did and add grated carrots to egg or chicken salad. Put thinly sliced carrots on your burger. Make small cubes and add them to your holiday dressing. Add them to your salsa and slaw. They’re great in Chili! Roast them with meats. Grill, steam and boil them. Make a carrot and fresh ginger bisque. Roast them in olive oil with springs of rosemary and sea salt. Mash them with potatoes. Soak them in hot water with cayenne pepper, coriander seeds and salt, cool and drain and serve. Make Kimchi, make carrot pancakes, but please don’t stick them in your ears.
Carrots are fascinating. Holy Cow they’re orange and they grow in dirt. As far as I am concerned anything that comes out of the ground and possesses a beautiful vibrant color are worthy of two things, consideration for daily consumption and telling them they are gorgeous and grateful they exist in the world. Don’t take root vegetables for granted. For a second imagine a world without root vegetables. Not so good, right? So, yeah, talk to them, love them and they will love you back. This goes for beets (and all their colors) and the 4,000 varieties of potatoes and all the other multi-hued root vegetables that soon many people will be planting for fall harvest. I’m losing focus, today I’m talking about the incredible carrot.
Carrots come in many colors; white, yellow, red, or purple and many markets carry them these days and they can certainly be found in farmers markets. I would advise trying a purple carrot for the simple fact that eating a purple carrot would be fun, because folks, food is damn fun! –Good God, am I the only person who thinks eating a purple carrot is exciting?
My father who is 80 maintains a tomato garden and back in ’72 he allotted me a section of space so I could grow carrots. I was 10 and he was 40, ages we have both surpassed. I was lucky to get this small patch of land from him back in ‘72 (about 36 inches) considering he and my mother still have the same disagreement they’ve been having since ‘61 when they bought the house. Each year Mom wants more space for her flowers and Dad doesn’t want to give it to her. In the end Dad gives Mom her share of the garden and by the end of summer its clear Mom has taken more than her split, her Poppies seem to “magically randomly pop-up in Dad’s tomatoes garden, “Must have been the birds that carried the seeds.” Mom says.
There I was at ten, long haired, skinny as bean and impatient, growing my own carrots, each day sitting on the grass, chin in hand watching my carrots grow. I’d run my hands over the tiny green soft tops that popped from the earth in early spring. By the start of summer they were dark green and hardy and looked cartoonish against the dark rich soil. My shirtless and tanned Dad while picking the “sucker” branches off his tomato plants warned me not to pick my carrots because it was too early. My mother, just as tanned, her blue eyes sparkling in the summer sun, fervently weeding her lilies, added her bit too, “Johnny, things aren’t gonna grow any faster watching them! Go play!” But I was obsessed and focused and I wanted them to grow and thrive right before my eyes like plants did in fantastical books for children.
By the time August rolled in I had found a stray cat that wandered its ways into our backyard one evening when Dad was grilling chicken. Ironically the cat was orange. I renamed the cat every day, not knowing if it was male or female and so my cat had a limitless amount of names. It was Tiger one day, another day it was Fluffy, then Mary, Mittens, Misty and Theo and so on and on. I kept Mario in my garage inside an old wooden grape crate I had gotten from my neighbor who had built a wine cellar that year. Obsessed with Mary Jane, I forgot about my small carrot garden. I was on to bigger and better things like confusing my stray cat with a multitude of names. And then one mid-September day after I had started the 5th grade and Morris was long gone, put in a shelter because everyone was allergic to him, my mother placed on the table alongside a roasted chicken, a plate of small, tender buttered carrots, “These are your carrots.” My Mom said, my jaw dropped, “WOWWWWW!” I dug in and by golly they were the best darn carrots I ever had, their flavor ran deep and sharp, bitter and sweet and I was damn proud.
Sometimes I wonder, do we all have a carrot story within us? Do we eat enough of them? Do we give them the love and attention they so rightly deserve? When I lived on the Upper East Side and I was actually making enough money to eat, each morning on my way to substitute teach, I’d buy a plastic cup full of freshly made carrots juice. They were displayed in ice bins outside the bodega a door away from my apartment. This nourishment brightened my day, gave me strength and sharpness and the ability to dodge books, verbal insults and desks flaying my way.
Thank you to the many carrots I ingested those golden days of youth.
Sweet Carrot Love
Boil a few cups of water, add a cup of raisins and then take this off the heat.
Cut some fresh carrots into Batons (thick strips that look like French fires) or cut them anyway you like. When I make this I use baby whole carrots with a bit of their green tops still attached, they look very sexy this way.
Heat a sauté pan with a small amount of sunflower seed oil or grape seed oil or whatever oil you like, I just wouldn’t use olive oil because it wouldn’t work with this recipe.
Place the carrots in the hot pan and move the pan around, flipping the carrots and smiling at them. Then think how marvelous and orange they are and smile some more. Now let them just sit in the hot oil for a few moments. Drain those raisins. Go back to the carrots and sprinkle them lightly with allspice not so much that people taste allspice, but just a hint. Now add to this, to be fancy, large grain Italian sea salt (regular salt is fine too). When the carrots start to brown on one side, add the raisins add a cup of white wine. I like to use a Sauternes (French sweet wine, I like sweet things on my carrots, they go so well.) Reduce it. I like my carrots firm and crunchy, if you like yours soft add more wine and reduced and cook until you like them. At the very end before removing them from the pan, add a few slabs of butter (I love Irish Butter) and swirl the carrots in that and serve.