When our sons were toddlers, we’d trundle them off to a friends’ farm in southern Wisconsin. Under a blazing August sun, they’d scramble the rows of frilly leaves and yank up bright orange carrots. The gnarled roots of the season’s first carrots are the taste of late summer, unrivaled for sweetness and crunch.
Local carrots, resplendent in their lacy leaves, are piling up in our farmers markets. Carrots are the most versatile of vegetables, delicious raw, roasted, stir-fried, steamed and even whirled into a spicy dip. Unlike many of our early-season vegetables — delicate lettuces, fragile peas — that demand our immediate attention, carrots when properly stored will wait patiently in the refrigerator until you’re ready to do something with them.
Seek out carrots that are firm, brightly colored, and free of dents and nicks. Make sure the tops are bright green. Look for smaller carrots because they are easier to work with and often are sweeter.
When you get them home, remove those tops because they’ll continue to grow and sap moisture and freshness from the root. Stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper, carrots will keep for several weeks.
There is really is no reason to peel organic carrots; in doing so you’re removing some of the flavor. Simply scrub off the dirt with a vegetable brush under cold running water.
The jury is out on whether or not to eat carrot tops. These leafy greens contain alkaloids that give them a bitter flavor. But some chefs use them like parsley in salads or sauté them in olive oil with garlic to soften their bite. Cookbook author Diane Morgan in “Roots” includes a recipe for Carrot Top Pesto.
“What a shame to waste all the nutrients and deliciousness of the bushy tops,” she writes. “They are such a treat to use.”
About five medium carrots will weigh in at a pound and will make about two to three cups of carrots or about 1 ½ cups of shredded carrots, enough to easily serve four to six people.
Roasting carrots draws up and condenses their natural sugars for a simple side dish. Leftovers are terrific whizzed into a dip to serve with toasted pita bread and (of course) carrot sticks.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.