The Tasteful Garden: How to grow and cook what you love to eat

The Tasteful Garden: Homegrown carrots give winter meals spark

Contributing CorrespondentsJanuary 17, 2014 

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January is a good time to sow carrots for Debbie Moose’s roasted ginger-orange carrot recipe. There are many new carrot varieties for home gardeners to choose from.

JOHN WALKER — MCT

Carol Stein grows it

People who are used to giant, woody supermarket carrots will find homegrown carrots a completely different experience. And newer varieties come in small, snackable sizes and sweet flavors.

Carrots can be grown throughout the winter almost everywhere in North Carolina. The seeds germinate in 30-degree weather, and can be sown in two- to three-week intervals to extend the harvest well into spring. Grow them in the garden or containers.

Tonda di Parigi is a sweet, snack-sized heirloom variety that’s about the size of a ping-pong ball at maturity. Several plants can grow handily in one 10-by-10-inch container.

Caracas makes a nice companion to Tonda di Parigi, and is about four inches long at maturity. Plant it in containers that are at least a foot deep. Caracas is often billed as a baby variety of the popular 6-inch Chantenay carrot, which requires soil about a foot deep.

Tonda di Parigi and Caracas are also well-suited for sunny garden spots, requiring less than 5 inches of turned soil that is mixed with compost or organic manure. In containers, use a fluffy container potting mix and plant the seeds a quarter-inch deep and about an inch apart.

Depending on the weather, it can take as little as 10 days or up to three weeks for tops to emerge from the soil. When the tops are an inch high, thin the seedlings, leaving plants about three inches apart. Thinning seedlings is important so the roots don’t become crowded and misshapen as they grow.

Keep soils evenly moist until you see green tops, then cut back to an inch every week until harvest begins, which will be six to eight weeks after germination. Caracas is ready to pick when it gets 3 to 4 inches long, and Tonda di Parigi is mature when it’s 1 1/2 to 2 inches around.

Debbie Moose cooks it

The first time I ate a small, tender carrot grown by a local farmer, I thought I’d tasted an entirely different vegetable. I am now totally spoiled.

Fresh carrots – as opposed to the log-like things sealed in mega-mart plastic bags – are sweet, moist and tender. They taste as bright and sunny as their color, although many aren’t orange. Carrots come in shades of burgundy and even white.

They’re packed with antioxidants and vitamin A.

If purchasing carrots, make sure the lacy tops are fresh and green. Some people eat the tops in salads. I find them a little bitter, but see for yourself. Snip off the tops with kitchen shears before storing because they can sap moisture and vitamins from the roots. Avoid carrots that are dry or cracked, or that have soft spots.

Store carrots in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Use freshly picked carrots within a week or so for the best flavor.

All you have to do to fresh carrots is give them a good rinse, maybe use a vegetable brush to remove any stubborn soil. Peeling is unnecessary, unless you’re using older, larger carrots. If using shredded carrots in a salad or slaw, don’t shred them ahead of time – they will quickly dry out.

And let’s not even discuss those so-called “baby carrot” nubbins in pre-packed bags. They’re just big carrots cut down by machine and have all the flavor of the bags they come in.

Raw or cooked, carrots add spark to winter meals. I decided to roast them with some other bright flavors to perk up a cold day’s dinner.

Reach Carol Stein and

Debbie Moose at tastefulgarden@hotmail.com.

Roasted Ginger-Orange Carrots

2 bunches fresh small carrots

1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger

2 teaspoons orange juice

2 tablespoons bourbon (see note)

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/2 teaspoon pepper or to taste

HEAT oven to 400 degrees. Place piece of aluminum foil on rimmed baking pan.

CUT carrots into similarly sized pieces. If they are very small carrots, you may want to leave them whole. Place carrots in foil.

IN small bowl, stir together ginger, orange juice, bourbon, olive oil, orange zest, salt and pepper. Pour mixture evenly over carrots. Fold foil up over carrots, sealing well and keeping liquid inside.

PLACE baking pan in oven and cook 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until you can penetrate carrots with tip of a sharp knife. Don’t overcook them.

YIELD: 4 servings.

NOTES: If you don’t want to use alcohol, you can substitute apple juice, apple cider or additional orange juice.

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