Orange Crush

Carrots deserve a fresh look as the weather warms.



With spring in the air, the first tiny carrots of the growing season, tender and sweet, can be found in markets. By mid-summer, local farms will harvest full-size carrots in abundance. Yet what we consider carrots’ primary characteristics—a bright-orange color and a rich sweetness that becomes more pronounced with cooking—are recent developments for this ancient root.

The first carrots originated in Afghanistan more than 5,000 years ago and had a dark, reddish-purple hue and yellow core. This variety, still eaten today in parts of Asia, never gained popularity here or in Europe; its water-soluble pigments bleed during cooking to turn food a murky purplish-black.

The familiar orange carrot we rely on was developed in Holland in the 17th century, a hybrid of several varieties: white carrots, which the ancient Greeks and Romans used in love potions and medicines rather than for everyday cooking; wild carrots, which were not eaten but instead grown in ornamental gardens as far back as the eighth century B.C.; and pale-yellow carrots, which date back to medieval times in the Mediterranean and had a pronounced bitterness.

For healthy eyes and skin, we need at least 5,000 IUs (international units) of vitamin A each day. One cup of carrots has more than four times the daily requirement.

The orange carrot improved upon its cousins by offering increased sweetness and lots of carotene, which the body translates into vitamin A (essential for healthy skin and eyesight). Also, because carotene contains oil-soluble pigments, orange carrots don’t bleed into water-based dishes and instead maintain their hue to brighten soups and stews.

Given these advantages, it’s no wonder that orange carrots quickly dominated other varieties or that they were embraced by cooks around the world. In Morocco, carrots are spiced with cumin, paprika, cinnamon and cayenne in piquant salads; in Indonesia, they’re blanched and splashed with vibrant coconut-lime dressing.

Cooks here are likely to follow European traditions of braising or roasting carrots—heat weakens the root’s strong cell walls and frees the sugars to be tasted. Because of their natural sweetness, carrots are popular in desserts as well as in savory dishes. In Iran, there’s rice pudding with shredded carrots; in India, halwa is a treat similar to fudge; and here, carrot cake is a favorite.

Eating raw carrots was virtually unknown until the 20th century, but today the majority of carrots is consumed this way. Whether you prefer carrots raw, fresh and crunchy, or slow-cooked until they are sweetly caramelized and fork-tender, they provide great inspiration for bringing the fresh colors and flavors of spring into your kitchen.  


Taking Root

The tiny early-spring carrots in well-stocked produce sections this month are a treat but not a local one; farms in our region start to harvest carrots in late June or July. A great way to bring them home is to sign up for a community-supported agriculture service (commonly called C.S.A.), which delivers produce to you, like the one offered by Kretschmann Farm. (Visit kretschmannfarm.com for details about its C.S.A.; sign-up continues through the beginning of May.) This 80-acre organic farm located near Zelienople, about 35 miles north of the city, grows several varieties of carrots. I spoke with Don Kretschmann, the owner, to find out more about growing, storing and enjoying them.

Orange All Over

There are purple and even white carrots, but they are mainly novelties. For the sweet carrot taste we all know and love—and a whopping dose of healthy carotene—orange carrots are your best bet. The most common orange variety is Imperator, which has a classic, long, narrow carrot shape. Kretschmann says other orange carrots that grow well here and taste delicious include: any type of Nantes carrot, a variety that matures more quickly than Imperator and has a reputation as the sweetest and Chantenay, a tasty cone-shaped carrot that’s easier to remove from the heavy clay-laced soils in our region because it doesn’t have long, narrow tips that can break off easily during harvest.

Let it Grow

Carrots are easy and rewarding to grow in the garden. There’s still plenty of time to sow your own and harvest them in mid- to late summer. Just be sure to harvest them before they reach 1 inch in diameter to prevent them from developing an unpleasant woody flavor.
If you end up with a bumper crop, it’s no problem—they are great keepers.  Kretschmann has a cheap, easy approach to carrot storage: In the fall, he breaks up some dry leaves and packs the carrots in them (next to each other but not touching). Stored in a chilly spot such as the basement, garage or porch, where they won’t freeze, his carrots keep well from October to March.

In the Kitchen

Full-size carrots with the green tops left on have an appealing just-from-the-garden look—but for storage, always remove the greenery. Shop for carrots that are firm, crisp and unblemished; if the tops are still attached, the foliage should be bright green, never wilted or blackened. Use tiny and tender new carrots right away or store larger ones for at least a week.
If you are using older carrots that have a tough core, quarter them and remove the core. Much of the flavor of carrots resides in the skin, so don’t peel tender new carrots at all before cooking; with larger carrots, use a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler to remove the thinnest possible layer of peel.


Glazed Carrots with Orange and Fresh Ginger

Serves 4                                                                                                                              

Spicy fresh ginger and tart-sweet orange give classic glazed carrots a new spin in this easy side dish, which pairs especially well with roast chicken. 
 

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil over medium-high heat. Add 1 pound of carrots peeled and cut into 1-inch lengths (halved if thick). Add 1/2 cup of chicken broth (water can be substituted), 1/4 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (preferably organic), 1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice and a 1-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger cut into thin matchsticks.

Bring the mixture to a boil; reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until tender but still crisp, about 8 minutes. Uncover and cook over medium-high heat until carrots are tender and liquid is syrupy, about 8 or 9 minutes (only a small amount of liquid should remain). Remove skillet from heat, add 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
 


 

During Elizabethan times in England, the ferny foliage of carrot tops was used to decorate ladies’ hair and hats. 

Yeah, Baby

Don’t be fooled by the term “baby carrot”—these aren’t underage veggies. The smooth, appealingly uniform 2-inch minis are actually carved from mature carrots. In fact, the now-familiar snack wasn’t invented until 1986 when a California farmer named Mike Yurosek tired of tossing away perfectly good large carrots because of minor physical imperfections.

Knowing that his long carrots were processed for freezing at plants that cut them into cubes, coins and minis, he wondered about giving the same treatment to fresh carrots. The idea turned out to be genius.

At first, he cut the carrots into smaller pieces by hand but decided to save time by buying an industrial green-bean cutter to cut larger carrots into 2-inch pieces (today, this is the standard size for a baby carrot). His next step was to use an industrial potato peeler to remove the peel and smooth the edges. It wasn’t long before the grocery stores he supplied began asking only for his bagged miniature carrots—and voilà!—a healthy new snack trend was born. 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in January

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in January

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
2016 Pittsburghers of the Year: The Pittsburgh Penguins

2016 Pittsburghers of the Year: The Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins' hoisting of Lord Stanley’s Cup in June year speaks to the ability of the team and the organization to persevere, to dig deep when things looked bleak, and to roll up their sleeves and go to work when tough jobs had to be done — traits Pittsburghers have always appreciated.
The Big Guy with the Big Voice

The Big Guy with the Big Voice

After joining the Penguins in mid-season, head coach Mike Sullivan instills the focus needed to win the Stanley Cup.
The TV Series ‘Outsiders’ Finds a Home in Millvale

The TV Series ‘Outsiders’ Finds a Home in Millvale

Go behind the scenes to meet set and production designers and artisans who work magic, transforming neighborhoods into rural Kentucky.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Watch: Preview of Fascinating Rachel Carson Documentary

Watch: Preview of Fascinating Rachel Carson Documentary

Carson, a native of Springdale, is credited with launching the modern environmental movement. She is the subject of a new “American Experience” documentary airing Jan. 24 on PBS.
Joe Manganiello Knocks off Superman, Batman is Next

Joe Manganiello Knocks off Superman, Batman is Next

The Mt. Lebanon native and insanely loyal Pittsburgh Steelers fan is engaging in superhero trash talk with one of his movie co-stars.
Pipe Dream? Get From Pittsburgh to Chicago in 30 Minutes

Pipe Dream? Get From Pittsburgh to Chicago in 30 Minutes

Developers say such a trip, at speeds faster than a passenger jet, could be possible in five years.
Pittsburgh Pride Expands Events, Adds First-Ever Zip Line

Pittsburgh Pride Expands Events, Adds First-Ever Zip Line

The summer celebration of the region’s gay, bisexual and transgender community, already the fourth largest special event in Pittsburgh, will be even bigger in 2017.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in January

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in January

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
2016 Pittsburghers of the Year: The Pittsburgh Penguins

2016 Pittsburghers of the Year: The Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins' hoisting of Lord Stanley’s Cup in June year speaks to the ability of the team and the organization to persevere, to dig deep when things looked bleak, and to roll up their sleeves and go to work when tough jobs had to be done — traits Pittsburghers have always appreciated.
The Big Guy with the Big Voice

The Big Guy with the Big Voice

After joining the Penguins in mid-season, head coach Mike Sullivan instills the focus needed to win the Stanley Cup.
The TV Series ‘Outsiders’ Finds a Home in Millvale

The TV Series ‘Outsiders’ Finds a Home in Millvale

Go behind the scenes to meet set and production designers and artisans who work magic, transforming neighborhoods into rural Kentucky.
Restaurant Review: Spoon in East Liberty Gets a Fresh Polish

Restaurant Review: Spoon in East Liberty Gets a Fresh Polish

Hiring Jamilka Borges as executive chef and a fresh interior design revive the East Liberty restaurant.
Talk of the Tahn: The Gift I Was Given

Talk of the Tahn: The Gift I Was Given

My brother taught me how to ski on rented metal sticks. Boyce Park. It was the first thing we ever did together besides fight over the last slice of pizza.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Watch: Preview of Fascinating Rachel Carson Documentary

Watch: Preview of Fascinating Rachel Carson Documentary

Carson, a native of Springdale, is credited with launching the modern environmental movement. She is the subject of a new “American Experience” documentary airing Jan. 24 on PBS.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
G&G Noodle Bar Downtown Will Close

G&G Noodle Bar Downtown Will Close

Its shuttering is the first significant Pittsburgh restaurant closing of 2017.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Popularity of The Flats on Carson is a Mystery

Popularity of The Flats on Carson is a Mystery

After Dark visits the South Side bar which attracts big crowds on the weekend — and, on Sunday, was the scene of a well-publicized arrest.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
You Can Hope, but Don't Expect an Easy Steelers' Win in KC

You Can Hope, but Don't Expect an Easy Steelers' Win in KC

Pittsburgh blasted Miami because the Steelers performed as expected against an opponent that was depleted by injury and overwhelmed by its circumstances. But that isn’t likely to happen again.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Tantalizing Textiles for the Table

Tantalizing Textiles for the Table

Check out the chic decor from Pittsburgh-based artist and designer Janice Nelson.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Scorsese's Silence Proves Worth the Wait (and the Weight)

Scorsese's Silence Proves Worth the Wait (and the Weight)

Reviews of "Silence," "Live by Night" and "Patriot's Day."

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Pittsburgh Romance: How Their Love Survived Long-Distance

Pittsburgh Romance: How Their Love Survived Long-Distance

From coast to coast and continent to continent, these couples showed that absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Urban Fit Co. Opening Flagship Shop in Sewickley

Urban Fit Co. Opening Flagship Shop in Sewickley

The locally owned active wear boutique is slated to open in March. Plus, get all the details on Pittsburgh’s new luxury residential real estate firm, Piatt Sotheby’s International Realty.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Pittsburgh Artist’s Work to be Featured at Thiel College

Pittsburgh Artist’s Work to be Featured at Thiel College

Benedict Oddi’s collection “Scouts and Nomads” will be on display in a campus gallery.

Comments