October 2, 2021

Today’s Main Ingredient is carrots!
Our host Mikki Uzupes talks carrots with farmer Evan Morgan of Food for Beings outside Honesdale PA, and our foodie and podcast producer Jane Bollinger. Nutritionist Carol Kneier adds some of the nutritional benefits of eating carrots that you might not know. Carrots are not just for eyesight!

About Carrots

Carrots are a long-lasting root vegetable that can be grown in many climates. They do well during cooler periods of the growing season—spring and fall. Carrots can tolerate frost.

The ancestors of carrots we eat today can be traced back to wild carrots that grew in Central Asia about 10,000 years ago. The first evidence of carrots being cultivated as a food crop was in Western Asia (Afghanistan and Iran) in the 10th century.
Today carrots come in a variety of colors
The modern-day orange carrot wasn’t cultivated until Dutch growers in the late 16th century took mutant strains of the purple carrot and gradually developed them into the sweet, plump, orange variety we have today. Before that all carrots were purple, red, or black. Today white carrots are also grown in the U.S.

Carrots are typically harvested as annuals, but they are biennial plants that take two years to complete their lifecycle. The plant experiences its primary growth in its first year, producing leaves, stems, and root. Carrots that are allowed to overwinter in the ground will flower in the second year and then turn all their energy into seed production before dying. Those “seeds” are not true seeds, but are actually dry fruits called schizocarps; these will produce carrots for harvest in the same year, or can be saved to plant the following year.

Growing Carrots

Site Selection and Preparation
• Carrots are easy to grow as long as they are planted in loose, sandy soil, which is unobstructed by rocks, stones, or soil clumps that could impede your carrots’ growth or result in stunted and misshapen carrots.
• If your ground soil is heavy clay or too rocky, you should consider planting carrots in a raised bed at least 12 inches deep and filled with airy, loamy soil.
• Carrots need full sunlight, though they can also tolerate partial shade.
• Avoid amending the soil with nitrogen-rich material (manure and fertilizer), which can cause carrots to fork and grow little side roots. Instead, work in old coffee grounds.

Carrots, Tomatoes and Peppers (35070764293)Plant directly in soil; transplanting is not recommended.
• For summer harvest, sow seeds outdoors 3 to 5 weeks before the last spring frost date. Plant a new round of seeds every three weeks through late spring.
• For fall harvest, sow seeds mid- to late-summer, starting about 10 weeks before your first fall frost.
• Sow 1/4-inch deep, 2 to 3 inches apart in 1-foot rows. When seedlings are an inch tall, thin so they stand 3 to 4 inches apart. Snip the top with scissors to avoid damaging the fragile roots.
• Keep the soil moist with frequent shallow watering.
• To germinate, the seeds should not get a hard crust of soil on top; cover with a layer of find compost to prevent a crust from forming.
• Mulch to retain moisture, speed germination and protect the roots from direct sunlight.
• Weed diligently.
• Fertilize with low-nitrogen, high-potassium and phosphate fertilizer 5 to 6 weeks after sowing. Too much nitrogen feeds to foliage, not the roots.

Carrots-2387394Most carrot varieties are ready to harvest about 8 weeks after seeds are sown.
• Harvest when carrots reach your desired size. Generally, they should be at least 1/2 inch in diameter.
• For spring-planted carrots, harvest before temperature get too hot.
• Fall carrots get sweeter after one or more frosts, which encourage the plant to start storing sugars in the root. After the first hard frost, cover carrot tops with an 18-inch layer of shredded leaves to preserve them for harvesting later.
• You may leave mature carrots in the soil for temporary storage if the ground will not freeze and pests aren’t a problem.
• To store a winter’s supply of carrots, harvest on a dry day. Cut off foliage near the crowns. Layer trimmed carrots in boxes of slightly moist sand in a humid root cellar at temperatures between 35 to 40 degrees F. or layer in dry sawdust and store in a cool dry area.

In the Kitchen

Enjoy carrots raw and cooked.
• Use raw in salads and for juice.
• Use cooked as a side dish or in stocks, soups, and stews, purées.
• Braising and roasting concentrate their flavors.
• Sometimes carrots make a basis of moist cakes. [See Mother Berta’s Carrot Cake Recipe | Epicurious]

Tiny carrots are usually sweeter than larger ones. However, don’t be fooled by the so-called “baby carrots” you find in the grocery store; these mass-produced, snack-size carrots actually started out as ordinary big carrots and were whittled down to little carrot nuggets to entice consumers.

Bowl of CarrotsCarrots may be boiled, steamed, sautéed, roasted, baked, broiled, grilled, microwaved, or glazed.

Carrots purée outstandingly well to serve as a side dish, as a base for soups, souffles, or vegetable molds. Most purées are made by boiling, steaming, or baking and must be cooked until very soft, then completely drained. Finely mash, sieve, or process in a food mill or food processor.

Technically you never have to peel carrots, just scrub them well. However, peel them if you want a more refined look.
Boil: Start cooking sliced carrots in cold water, then after the water boils, add salt. Simmer uncovered until tender.
Steam: Make sure the pieces are about the same size. Steam over boiling water until they just yield to the tip of a knife, 5 to 12 minutes depending on their size. Toss with melted butter.
Carrots JulienneSauté: Julienne 3 carrots into matchsticks (strips about 1/8-inch thick and 3 inches long). Add 2 teaspoons olive oil to a hot sauté pan. Add carrots before the oil starts to smoke. Stir carrots to coat with oil, and then cook until they are tender. Once they start to brown, deglaze the pan with 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar. Toss with honey before serving.
Try this variation: Don’t end with balsamic and honey, but add butter and a Tablespoon of brown sugar.
Roast: Toss carrots with 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt & pepper. Place in a baking dish or roasting pan. Add 2 Tablespoons water, cover tightly with foil and cook in a 400°F oven until tender, 25 to 45 minutes. Toward the end, remove the foil and continue roasting until the liquid is reduced and the carrots are browned.
Bake: Wrap in foil and bake in 350-degree oven until tender.
Broil: Cut the carrots crosswise into 4-inch lengths. Cut any larger pieces lengthwise in half or quarters so the sticks are roughly 1/2-inch wide. Place carrots on a sheet pan and drizzle them with the olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt & pepper and toss to coat; spread the carrots out in an even layer. Heat the broiler and cook for about 10 minutes 4 inches from the broiler, tossing twice until they are tender and randomly charred. Serve warm or at room temperature. Variation: Top with grated orange zest, orange juice and vinegar. Sprinkle with kosher salt and toss to coat. Cook covered 7 to 8 minutes per side. Carrots are done when both sides are seared and can be pierced with a tip of a sharp knife.
Grill: Heat the grill to medium-high. Trim leafy tops. Cut big carrots in half lengthwise. Coat lightly with oil, and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Place carrots on the grill (cut side down if cut in half lengthwise).
Microwave: 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into logs; pieces should be approximately the same size. Place in a covered dish with 2 Tablespoons water. Microwave 4 to 6 minutes.
Glaze: Carrots can be transformed by glazing. Tiny carrots are left whole, while large ones should be cut into even shapes and put in a pan. For every 1 pound of carrots 2 to 3 Tablespoons butter and 1 Tablespoon sugar. Add salt & pepper and enough water or vegetable stock to barely cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid has almost evaporated. If the carrots are not tender, add a little more liquid and continue cooking. When the liquid has almost evaporated, shake the pan to coat the vegetables with the glaze. Note: Different vegetables should be glazed separately, then tossed together.
Juice: See How to Make Carrot Juice: 14 Steps (with Pictures) | wikiHow

Mirepoix, Sofrito and Battula
Carrots are used as a flavorful foundation in soups, stews and sauces:
Mirepoix(cuisine)The French mirepoix forms an essential part of braises and some sauces by acquiring additional flavor from a base of vegetables. It is mixture of vegetables cooked in butter is a saucepan: two parts each of diced carrots and onions to one part celery, and sometimes a small amount of leek. Cooking time varies depends on size: from small dice to larger pieces for braising meat that can take several hours to braise in the oven. Mirepoix is almost always strained out of the liquid before serving.

The Italian version of this vegetable combination is called a battuta. Traditionally it included parsley, with the onions finely chopped and sautéed in lard. Today olive oil is more commonly used. Garlic might be added, depending on the dish. Battura is the base for nearly all pasta sauces, soups, risotto and countless meat and vegetable dishes.

When a battuta is sautéed with garlic and it becomes translucent or colored pale gold, this is called a sofrito. With both battuta and sofrito, the vegetables are not strained out before serving and become an integral part of the dish.

Do not store near apples or other fruit, as the carrots will become bitter.
To store freshly-harvested carrots, twist or cut off all but 1/2-inch of the tops, scrub off any dirt under cold running water, and air-dry. Then seal in airtight plastic bags, and refrigerate. If you do not use a plastic bag, the carrots will go limp within a few hours.
In the refrigerator, they will keep from 1 to 3 weeks.

Preserving Carrots
1. Leave them in the ground. See: Overwintering Carrots: Steps For Leaving Carrots In The Ground Over Winter |
2. Store in a root cellar. See:

3. Can them. Since carrots are a low acid food, you must use a pressure canner if you want to can them; unless you pickle them, and then water-bath canning is fine.
4. Freeze them. Carrots need to be blanched before freezing. Blanch thin slices 2 to 5 minutes and then plunge into cold ice water to refresh. Dry thoroughly before packaging in plastic freezer bags; remove as much air from the bags as possible.
5. Dry them. Dry carrots in a dehydrator or in the oven: trim, wash, peel, and slice thinly; then blanch for 3 minutes and dry in the oven at 125 degrees until they are almost brittle.

YIELD: 1 pound carrots = 3 to 4 servings.
1 pound carrots = 3 to 3 1/2 cups sliced, chopped, or grated; 1 1/2 cups puréed.
Other ideas:
• Marinate carrot sticks in leftover pickle juice.
• Make carrot curls to garnish a platter of crudités; if they do not curl, wrap them around your finger and drop into a bowl of ice water for about an hour.


Carrots Braised in Broth – Serves 4

1 pound carrots
2 cup beef or chicken broth
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon salt

Step 1 – Peel carrots and cut into logs. Bring broth to a boil, cover and reduce heat, and cook 4 to 5 minutes.

Step 2 – Remove carrots to a warm plate and reduce the liquids to a light glaze. Roll the carrots in the thickened liquid, and serve.

Variation: For braised & glazed carrots, treat the same as above, but increase the butter to 3 to 4 Tablespoons and the sugar to 1 1/2 Tablespoons, which will produce a more syrupy glaze.

Download Recipe

Puréed Carrots – Serves 4

2 pounds carrots
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup cream (or sour cream)
Salt & pepper

Step 1 – Peel and slice carrots, and then blanch in salted water until tender. Drain and purée in a food mill or food processor.

Step 2 – Return to a thick-bottomed pan and beat in butter, cream, salt & pepper. Reheat for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot, or chilled as a soup course.

Download Recipe

Savory Carrot Custard with Parmesan

1 pound carrots
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon sugar or honey
3 eggs
3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350⁰F.
Step 1 – Peel and slice carrots into thin disks, and then blanch in salted water until tender. Drain and purée in a food mill or food processor.

Step 2 – Beat in butter, sugar, eggs, Parmesan and milk.

Step 3 – Bake in a buttered oven dish for 30 to 40 minutes until firm in the center.

Note: If desired, top with buttered bread crumbs and place under the broiler to toast the crumbs before serving.

Download Recipe

Carrot and Raisin Salad

2 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup mayonnaise (or mixed with plain yogurt)
1 Tablespoon sugar or 2 teaspoons honey
2 Tablespoons milk, more or less

Step 1 – Combine the first 4 ingredients.

Step 2 – Stir in just enough milk to reach desired consistency. However, the longer this sits before serving, the more liquid will accumulate.

Step 3 – Refrigerate until serving.

Variation: Substitute or mix dried cranberries (Craisins) with the raisins.

Download Recipe

Sweet Carrot Fritters – makes about 10 large fritters
Smothered in maple syrup, these are great for brunch in place of pancakes.

1 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
A pinch each of cinnamon & grated nutmeg
1 egg
2 Tablespoons sugar or honey
2 Tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup shredded carrots
Vegetable oil for frying
Confectioner’s sugar for garnish

Step 1 – Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and spices.

Step 2 – In a separate bowl, beat the egg with sugar or honey, milk, and vanilla. Gradually mix in the flour mixture and stir in the carrots.

Step 3 – Heat oil and drop in the batter by heaping tablespoons. Turn to brown on both sides.

Step 4 – Taste for desired doneness and drain well on paper towels. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

Download Recipe

All Podcasts

Today's Main Ingredient is sponsored in part by:

Greater Pike Community Foundation
Overlook Estate Foundation
Wayne-Pike Farm Bureau

Thanks also to Fertile Valley and Wolfe Spring Farms for their sponsorship of the BoldGold radio station broadcasts.

• About Today’s Main Ingredient

• Host and Guest Bios

• Share your favorite ingredient on our Facebook page

• Let us know what you think on Twitter

All Podcasts