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Carrot craze

The lowly carrot is having a creative resurgence, lending flavour and versatility to all kinds of recipes

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Recipes Featured In This Article

Peachy Carrot Smoothie

A fresh and intensely aromatic smoothie that packs in a full serving of vegetables for bre...

Carrots-by-JEmin01The carrot is nostalgic, bringing memories of bare feet in dew covered grass, wrapping small fingers around cool stalks on a summer evening and trying to grasp them as close to the moist earth as possible.
With the bounty of fall harvest focusing on squash, turnip and pumpkin, the carrot is too often forgotten. Some people prefer facing the brunt of the cooler months ahead with heartier vegetables in soul-warming food.

But fall is also the best time to explore fresh dishes full of sweet carrots that can bring back the feeling of sunshine, even on the darkest days. Farmer Mathieu Reyjal is the owner of Chante Poule Farm in Cap-Pelé, New Brunswick, and co-owner of The Farmers’ Truck, a “farmers’ market on wheels,” which might be the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada. He sells several different carrot varieties from different farms, including heirloom carrots from his own operation. Reyjal grows several different varieties of carrots: from Sugarknacks, which he harvests early, to Dominion, which he harvests late.

For the customers he serves off the produce truck, there are a few easily discernible carrot types. Bunching carrots, also known as early carrots, are the first carrot crop of summer, and have long greens attached to the tops. Storage carrots are larger and have a longer shelf life. Heirloom carrots, recognizable by their irregular shapes and variety of colours, are popular with restaurants and people looking to make more visual impact with their dishes. “Growing these high-quality and very different carrots can be as rewarding as it is challenging,” he says. He notes that heirlooms pollinate naturally, unlike commercial hybrid varieties that grow more consistently.

Carrots-by-JEmin18Certain carrot types lend themselves best to certain cooking methods or recipes. “Bunching carrots are best for salads, or eating raw, while storage varieties have better consistency for soups and stews,” says Reyjal. For chef Jonathan Morrison, who works at the high-end restaurant Little Louis’ Oyster Bar in Moncton, N.B., the beauty of the carrot comes from its versatility.To make a vegetable interesting to diners it must take on different shapes, and embrace many cooking techniques. “Whether carrots are pickled, cooked or puréed, dehydrated to make chips, roasted or boiled, they still have integrity,” says Morrison. He’s even seen chefs use carrot greens in place of herbs for recipes like pesto.

As far as seasoning goes, the sweetness and freshness of cooked carrots allows for bold flavours without the risk of overpowering the vegetable. Morrison suggests orange or citrus for fresher dishes, and earthier, deeper rustic flavours, such as maple, caraway or cinnamon, for carrots that have been roasted or for cold-weather dishes.Morrison suggests using the sous-vide technique (slow-cooking in hot water) in an airtight plastic bag as a great way to preserve the sweet flavour of roasting, without losing the intense brightness of the vegetable.

Carrots-by-JEmin26Although his preferred cooking technique for carrots is oven roasting, which concentrates and deepens the flavours, Morrison also appreciates the simplistic, vibrant taste of boiled or steamed carrots with butter, the way his grandmother used to make them.No matter what cooking technique you choose, be sure to store your carrots properly, or they’ll be dry and flavourless. “If a carrot has an early maturity [like bunching carrots], the skin will be very thin and it won’t hold its moisture long,” Reyjal says. To keep the carrots crisp and lively, store them in water in the fridge.

Storage carrots, which are what most Atlantic Canadians eat over the winter, need a cool, damp, ventilated environment. “Storage varieties are sometimes starchy [when first harvested], but [producers] store them for a month or two and the sugars become more concentrated,” Reyjal says. With a short growing season, it’s great to experiment with long-life vegetables like the carrot. With many people in Atlantic Canada preaching farm-to-table approaches, carrots take up major real estate as a staple of our agriculture, says Morrison. “The carrot brings me back to…family dinners, and I enjoy cooking with them because of their versatility.”

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