People identify autumn as “Harvest Season.” While this is a slight misunderstanding of how small farms operate – we’re harvesting and putting food on the market table all season long – it’s true that this is the time of year when the harvest really ramps up. Most of the farm has been buttoned up, and there’s not much else to do but quickly get those remaining Fall crops out of the ground.
Jess recently more-correctly identified it as “Harvest and Store Season.” And he’s right. Vegetables that have been growing all summer like squash, beets, potatoes, carrots, onions, celery root and parsnips are pulled from the garden and given protection in the barn for eating while the ground is frozen.
The first year of our farm, 2009, was the first time I really ate fall carrots. The markets were done and the farm mostly closed down for the winter, but I had two more weeks before moving back to Chicago. Not wanting to buy a bunch of groceries that I’d then have to move, I subsisted on what was left from the garden—carrots, some potatoes and the new growth of kale coming off the cut-down stumps from the summer plants. It sounds like meager pickings, but the revelation of those carrots fed me and kept me coming back day after day. And now every year, when I leave the farm, I have a large bag of carrot stowaways with me.
Carrots, my darling of the storage roots, suffer from their ubiquity. They don’t seem as special as a parsnip or celery root because they are available all day, everyday. But locally grown, fall-dug carrots are big and long from a full summer in the ground and have been sweetened by the frosts of late October. They bear no resemblance to the “baby carrots” that are the whittled cores of large carrots then processed in water to make their texture and flavor mild and meek.
Carrots sold with their greens are guaranteed freshly dug. The greens respirate more quickly than the roots. If left on, the leaves will pull moisture from the root, making it limp, squishy and short-lived. Green-less carrots are not inherently inferior. I prioritize a topped local carrot dug a while ago over a carrot with a mop of fresh greens from elsewhere. The flavor is superior and has a lower carbon footprint having not been shipped from California in refrigerated storage.
Carrots are the workhorses of the kitchen. They are full of vitamins and micronutrients, like beta-carotene, potassium, calcium, thiamine, magnesium and vitamins A, B6, and C. They provide backbone for other, more dazzling ingredients to shine. With onions and celery, carrots are the bases for soups, braises and cooking grains.
They can also be the main event. Purple, yellow, red and orange carrots are now regularly available at markets. Accented with spices from India, the Middle East or Eastern Europe, carrots take just as well to spice as they do to cooling flavors of dill and cream.
And all the while carrots are not difficult to store. With their tops removed, they keep for months in the drawer of the fridge. I keep mine in a paper bag in a plastic bag—the plastic keeps the moisture in, the paper shields the light and keeps the whole lot from getting slimy. And if you have a garage or barn that doesn’t freeze, you can keep boxes upon boxes to eat all through the winter. Which is great because several farms, including ours, in the area will sell you winter roots in bulk. At no other time of the year can you get such a deal as 10 pounds of carrots for $20!
Carrot Soup with Carrot Green Salsa Verde
Whole animal cooking has gained a lot of ground in the past ten years. There is less talk of whole vegetable cooking—using the normally discarded greens or roots of the plant. This soup is a perfect way to utilize the whole plant. The greens are bright and astringent balancing the creamy nature of blended carrot roots. The greens can also be replaced with parsley, cilantro, arugula or basil. It will taste different but still great.
This cream-less soup relies on the starches in the carrots themselves to create the texture. Because this soup is dairy free, it freezes well, so feel free to scale it up and save some for a mid-week dinner.
1 lb carrots, cut into chunks
1 tsp cumin seed
½ tsp coriander seed
1 onion, sliced thinly
5 C water or chicken stock
For the salsa verde
1 C carrot greens
½ C olive oil
1 fresh chili
1 tsp salt
1 lemon, juice and zest
- In a large pot heat a glug of neutral oil until just smoking
- Add the cumin and coriander seed and toast until fragrant
- When the seeds start to pop, reduce the heat add the onions to cool the pan and keep the seeds from burning
- Sweat the onions until tender
- Add the carrots and liquid
- Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook until carrots are very tender
- Blend until creamy
- Blend all of the salsa verde ingredients in a blender until the same texture as pesto
- Garnish the soup with a streak of salsa verde and a dollop of sour cream if desired
Spicy Roasted Carrots with Mint, Almonds and Lemon
Fall carrots sweeten with each and every frost that racks the garden. That sugar is balanced by the spice of the sambal and brightened with the mint. The lemons will sizzle and can be eaten, rind and all. This is a good side with grilled lamb, pork or with lentils and greens for a light dinner.
The key to this dish is not overloading the carrots onto the baking sheet. They need space to allow the outside to crisp rather than steam. And hold your nerve, let them bake until dark and crisp.
The sambal sauce is available at most grocery stores next to its better-known, sister product srirachia
2 lbs carrots
1 T sambal or srirachia
1 lemon, sliced thinly into rounds
½ C almonds, toasted
1 bu mint, leaves picked and roughly torn
- Heat oven to 425F
- Scrub and then cut carrots into 2 inch sticks
- Toss with a glug of neutral oil, sambal sauce and the lemons
- Spread onto a baking sheet and roast until tender and crispy (about 45 min)
- Remove from the oven and toss with almonds and mint and serve