Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Growing Carrots

Freshly pulled Carrots
The humble carrot is believed to have originated in Afghanistan, a place much in the news of late. The carrot made the journey to Europe in the 14th century but it was not until the 17th century that the familiar orange type was developed in the Netherlands. 'Dutch' carrots are still sold today and refer to a bunch of young carrots usually sold with leaves attached.
Last weekend in the Sydney Morning Herald, Steve Manfredi wrote about carrots in his excellent column Seasonal Cook and summed them up best by saying that they are 'indispensable in the kitchen and along with celery and onion form the trinity of flavours that are the basis of stocks and sauces.' He recommended slow braising of carrots to caramelise them and unlock their abundant sugar making them a great side-dish for a roast meal. Eating them raw, I like to julienne them and add the slender pieces to Vietnamese rice paper rolls where they give the crunch factor in contrast with the other soft ingredients. The other way I like to eat them fresh is in Moroccan style salads where grated carrot is mixed with currants, pine nuts, pieces of orange and dressed with olive oil and spices. This is inspiration from Claudia Roden's A New Book of Middle Eastern Food.
As for growing carrots , they are too easy, especially from seed as long as the soil is well dug and prepared beforehand. Avoid fresh animal manure in the soil and thus nitrogen which produces too much leaf growth at the expense of root development. I was a vegetable gardening snob before sowing this batch, pictured above, in my plot at the community garden. However having sold some bunches to an organic food store and seeing the other varieties available such as the lovely purple types I am sold and can't wait to try growing some more. Carrot seed can be sown all year but the sweetest ones are dug in spring. The variety pictured here is Nantes perhaps named for the French city? Organic seed is readily available.

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