Carrots are considered one of the foundation vegetables in professional as well as many home kitchens. They are an often underappreciated root vegetable but a workhorse nonetheless, finding their place in braised dishes, savory confections, desserts, roasted dishes, salads, side dishes, soups, and stews.
They are a staple ingredient in my kitchen, used in many different ways—in a soffritto, for example—in what I like to cook. And, if the leafy green tops are in good condition, I often look for ways to incorporate them in a recipe or two.
Carrots are available year round, although they are at their best in the spring to early summer and again in the early fall, which yields more mature carrots.
I recently read that carrots are alleged to absorb heavy metals or other contaminants from tainted soil. That being true, it is better to err on the side of caution and source organic carrots whenever they are available.
Whether using the tops or not, carrots will store better in the coldest part of your refrigerator, with the tops cut off about 1 to 2 inches from the end, and tightly wrapped in sealed plastic bags.
The Imperator variety, that classic orange carrot that is readily found in most grocery stores, is considered the most popular. I learned there are many other varieties, shapes, and colors to explore. For example, the Nantes carrot is available in as many as 12 heirloom varieties with names such as Bolero, Napa, White Satin, and Kaleidoscope, aka Rainbow; the Chantenay carrot can be found in a couple of heirloom varieties; the Mini-Style, aka Radish-Style, with names such as Babette and Romeo. There may be other varieties that I have overlooked, but you get the idea—there are a lot to choose from. I think it is safe to say that unless you have a great farmers’ market close by, or a good CSA connection, you will more easily source the Imperator and Kaleidoscope varieties.
So with that as a brief introduction, I want to share some recipes that might inspire you to add carrots to your cooking repertoire in other ways besides as part of a mirepoix, or your next pot of minestrone soup.
Included for you to explore are a salad dressing, an antipasto dish, a marmalade, an easy carrot salad, a pickled carrot, a Moroccan carrot salad variation, and a dessert.
Carrot and Ginger Salad Dressing
½ pound of carrots, washed and cut into uniform pieces
3-inch piece of ginger root, skinned and cut into small pieces
1 large shallot, small dice
1 tablespoon of garlic jam, or roasted garlic puree
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 anchovy filets
2 tablespoons of honey (many options to choose from)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or unflavored rice vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon + 1 orange + zest of the orange
¾ cup olive oil
Salt, pepper, and chili flakes to taste
Gently poach carrots and ginger until easily pierced with a fork (approximately 20 minutes), drain.
Place in the work bowl of a food processor with all the other ingredients except the olive oil and spices. Puree, scraping down the sides as needed.
Season to taste.
Slowly add the oil until fully incorporated.
Strain, pressing with the back of a ladle, extracting all the liquid and discard the solids.
Taste and correct the seasoning as needed, then pour the strained liquid into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. The yield will be approximately 1¼ cups of a smooth, turmeric-colored emulsion.
Lightly chill, and shake well before using.
This dressing has a subtle zip to punctuate a bitter greens salad, a baby greens and herb salad mix, or can be drizzled over grilled or roasted root vegetables or potatoes.
Sweet and Spicy Marinated Carrots—Part of an Antipasto
An all-vegetable antipasto has always been of interest to me with that combination of shapes and colors, raw and cooked, and the flavor characteristic I enjoy the most—that mix of the savory, sweet, and the spicy—agrodolce e piccanti.
The inspiration for the recipe came from one written by Viana La Place in her book Verdura. Although that recipe produced a spicy carrot dish worthy of any vegetable antipasto spread, it reminded me more of the Italian pickled vegetable antipasto Giardiniera, the flavor of which I was not after this time.
My adaptation emphasizes that balance between the sweet and the spice, along with adding some fresh herbs to the mix so the vinegar does not dominate and the fresh subtle flavor of the carrots is allowed to shine.
This dish can easily be part of an all-vegetable antipasto, or served on its own accompanied by a cheese or two, some olives, and good rustic bread.
8 to 10 carrots, washed, trimmed, and cut on the bias approximately ¼-inch thick
1 large garlic clove, very finely minced
Finely minced herb mix including celery leaves, parsley, and mint
A pinch of dried oregano (optional)
3 tablespoons of white balsamic + 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt, pepper, and red chili flakes to taste
Place the prepared carrots in a saucepan and gently boil until just fork tender, approximately 8 minutes. Drain well in a colander and transfer to a large work bowl.
Add the minced garlic, the herbs, and the vinegar, gently tossing to thoroughly mix and combine.
Lightly drizzle with the olive oil and season with the salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Toss again, cover the bowl with clear film and allow the carrots to macerate for several hours at room temperature.
Before serving, check and correct the seasoning including the vinegar and oil as needed. Mix again and plate to serve.
My first introduction to this recipe was from the book titled Radically Simple by Rozanne Gold. Doing some further research and online recipe searches, believe it or not, even finding a site called The Carrot Museum, I learned that carrot marmalade and jam are popular in Egyptian and Iranian cooking, and often prepared with a red carrot when they can be found in the markets.
It is a great accompaniment to creamy cheeses, for example, and pairs particularly well with chèvre, feta, ricotta, and other triple cream varieties.
The marmalade can be served simply on buttered toast and makes a tasty crostini topping paired with one of the mentioned cheeses.
As you might expect, there are many recipes and flavor combinations for this confection. One option would be to use only honey instead of sugar, which will yield a less sweet, less glossy, and coarser-finished marmalade. Or, in addition to using the zest and juice from lemons and oranges, grind up the pulp along with the carrots, wrap the seeds in a sachet, and include them in the cooking to extract the pectin. Preserved ginger slices can be incorporated, and the spice mix can be varied to achieve a more subtle or assertive end result.
So after experimenting, I came up with this recipe, which I like best. It is not overly sweet, thanks to combining reduced amounts of both honey and sugar, together with the citrus, herb, and spice.
2 cups of water
2 to 3 small bay leaves
½ cup of honey (many options to choose from, influencing the overall flavor and sweetness depending upon the variety you use)
1¾ cups of sugar
Zest and juice from 1 lemon and 1 orange
4 cups of coarsely grated carrots
1 teaspoon ground coriander and ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of sea salt
Place the water, bay leaves, honey, sugar, zest, and juice in a heavy-bottomed stockpot and bring to a gentle boil, stirring to dissolve the honey and sugar.
Lower the heat to a simmer, adding the carrots, spices, and salt, stirring to combine.
Cover and simmer for 1 to 1½ hours, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid has cooked off and the consistency has thickened and has a glossy finish.
Discard the bay leaves and allow the marmalade to cool completely. It can then be spooned into jars and either stored in the refrigerator for 3 weeks or frozen indefinitely.
Easy Carrot Salad—Carrot-Fennel-Radish
This is a recipe I prepare often. It is easy to assemble, using only a few ingredients that should be found in most home pantries, and emphasizes the flavor combinations that are the basis of many root vegetable salads—salty, sour, and sweet. In addition, the mix of the colors and textures of the ingredients make for a nice presentation.
This salad pairs well with something roasted, especially pork, and is my go-to side when serving roasted veal marrow bones because the salad is a refreshing complement to the rich roasted marrow.
(for 2, scales up easily)
1 medium shallot, skinned and sliced into thin rings
2 medium carrots, trimmed, washed, but not skinned
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed
2 large radishes
12 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, leaves removed and left whole, stems discarded
1 generous teaspoon of capers, rinsed (optional)
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
Juice from ½ of a large lemon
Salt, pepper, and red chili flakes
Separate the shallot rings and place in a bowl of ice water to soften the strong flavor.
Using a mandolin or a vegetable peeler and a sharp knife prep the vegetables as follows:
- Halve the carrots in the middle, and run them across the mandolin blade to cut ribbons approximately 1/8-inch thick until you reach the core (save for another use).
- Cut the stalks off the top of the fennel bulb (save for another use), creating a flat top and run the trimmed bulb across the blade of the mandolin cutting into approximately 1/8-inch slices.
- Slice the radishes into 1/8-inch rounds and using your knife, cut across the rounds making 1/8-inch wide batons, white with red tips.
Drain the shallot slices and dry on a paper towel. By hand, gently mix the trimmed root vegetables along with the shallot rings, the parsley leaves, and the capers (if using) in a large work bowl until loosely combined.
Whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, and 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil to make a vinaigrette. Drizzle over the salad, season with salt, pepper, and a dusting of the red chili flakes. Taste and correct the seasoning as needed, mound on plates, and serve.
A Carrot Pickle—One Approach
Just like mushrooms there is probably not a pickled fruit or vegetable I would not try. There are so many approaches to pickling and so many variations that I have been gathering information and recipes to devote a whole blog post to the subject in the future. For now I thought that this post about carrots would not be complete without at least one pickle recipe.
On their own I find pickled carrots refreshing. Salty, sweet, spicy, and a savory accompaniment to roasted, braised, or smoked dishes, a component for plates of cheese or cured meats, or simply finding their way into salads or sandwiches, pickled carrots are a useful addition to any home kitchen pantry. So here is one recipe for pickled carrots, the basis of which could also be used to pickle other vegetables or fruits that you might have on hand.
Yields approximately 3¾ to 4 cups of brine
2 cups of water
1½ cups of white vinegar or white wine vinegar
½ cup of apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons of kosher salt or sea salt (not iodized salt)
½ cup of sugar
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 whole bay leaves
2 to 3 whole cloves
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds
5 to 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 to 2 small whole dried chili peppers or a generous pinch of dried chili flakes
3 cups of sliced carrots either rounds or on the bias, approximately ¼-inch thick
Place all the ingredients, except the carrots, in a large stockpot and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and the sugar.
Add the carrots, again stirring to combine.
Remove from the heat and cool at room temperature. Once the liquid cools the carrots will have cooked until just fork tender and will be ready to use.
If you are storing the pickled carrots, transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid, and cover completely with the pickling liquid. They should store indefinitely in the refrigerator as long as they are submerged in the liquid.
Moroccan Carrot Salad
This is another recipe I have prepared countless times, showcasing carrots surrounded by various combinations of spice, fresh herbs, and citrus. There are many interpretations of the basic dish—I have explored either lightly poaching the carrots first, which is a more traditional approach, or roasting them instead, which I find makes a more interesting main ingredient.
This salad can be served on its own, or more commonly accompanied by thick Greek yogurt and sprinkled with chopped fresh cilantro. I prefer an herb mix of parsley and spearmint instead of the cilantro but it is all a matter of personal taste.
Yields enough for 4 salad servings
1 small sweet onion, or a shallot, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
½ cup white wine vinegar
8 to 10 medium to large carrots, washed, trimmed, not skinned
Zest from 1 orange
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon each of the following; ground caraway, ground cinnamon, ground coriander, ground cumin, powdered ginger, pimentón (sweet); there will be more spice mix than needed for this recipe as you don’t need to use it all
Olive oil for finishing
1/4 cup loosely packed, fresh flat leaf parsley and spearmint leaves, roughly chopped
Salt, pepper, and red chili flakes to taste
Marinate the onion and garlic in the vinegar while preparing the remainder of the salad.
If poaching, cut the carrots into approximately ½-inch pieces. They should all be the same size so they poach evenly. Place in a heavy-bottomed stockpot and gently boil for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until just fork tender with a little crunch. Drain and cool.
If roasting, lightly coat the whole carrots with olive oil. Sear in an ovenproof pan to lightly char. Place the pan in a preheated 375-degree oven and roast for 12 to 15 minutes or until just fork tender with a little crunch. Cool and then cut the whole carrots into approximately ½-inch pieces
Place the cooked carrots in a large work bowl. Season with the salt, pepper, and the chili flakes. Sprinkle some of the spice mix and zest over and gently toss to distribute the spices evenly.
Strain and discard the onion and garlic marinating in the vinegar. Distribute 2 tablespoons of the now-flavored vinegar over the carrots, along with a generous drizzle of olive oil.
Again, gently toss to cover and coat the carrots. Allow the carrots to macerate 15 minutes or so to take on the flavors of the spice mix.
Before serving, mix in the chopped herbs, then taste to check and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
Carrot Cake with Polenta and Marsala
Over the years I have served a carrot dessert, a Venetian Carrot Cake, that I have made many times, so I was seeking something new. Until a few years ago the only other carrot cake I was familiar with, before the Venetian came along, was the sweet, sometimes layered cake with a cream cheese filling and topping. That was definitely not what I was looking for as the final carrot dessert for this post.
So, in looking through some of my cookbooks I found this recipe in Domencia Marchetti’s The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, which was a new recipe for me and just what I wanted.
It is the type of cake I like to prepare, using olive oil instead of butter, punctuated by the citrus zest, a light crunch from the polenta, moisture from the carrots, and a nutty essence from the addition of dry Marsala wine.
Here is my interpretation of Domencia’s recipe:
3 to 4 large to medium carrots, washed, trimmed, but not skinned
½ cup of olive oil
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup dry Marsala wine
Finely grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup of finely ground polenta
2 teaspoons of baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon powdered nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Using a box grater, shred the carrots for 2 generous cups, set aside.
Using olive oil, coat an 8-inch springform pan and lightly dust with flour.
In a large work bowl, whisk together the olive oil, sugar, eggs, wine, and zests until thoroughly combined.
In another large work bowl, whisk together the flour, polenta, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.
Using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until completely combined and free of lumps. Then fold in the shredded carrots until a smooth batter is formed.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
Cool the cake on a rack, run a knife around the sides of the pan before releasing the ring, and allow the cake to cool completely. Transfer to a platter and dust with powdered sugar before serving.
If you haven’t developed an appreciation for carrots beyond including them in soups or crudités, perhaps some of these recipes will broaden their appeal for you. I’m hopeful you will give them a try. Happy New Year!
Eat Well. Be Well.
One of the best things about cooking is that it is an on-going learning experience.