Carrots are useful. They go in stews, soups, casseroles, cakes and make a fine accompaniment to all kinds of meat and fish.
They are available year round, but in autumn and winter they become a real staple.
It used to be that the fat, big orange ones, often knobbly like witches’ fingers were all you could get in the shops and supermarkets.
They are great of course, being earthy but also reliably, cheerfully sweet. Perfect therefore, for rich, deep casseroles or as a sweet mash for ham or pork.
In recent years other varieties of carrot have appeared, first in farmers’ markets and organic green grocers but now, slowly making their way into the supermarkets too.
These varieties, usually smaller, thinner and in a wider spectrum of colours from deep purple to almost white are closer to what was eaten in the Middle Ages before they developed the fatter orange kinds.
They tend to be less sweet, which is good when sweetness isn’t what you really need, like with fish or other vegetables.
The purple ones are incredibly earthy while the paler yellow ones tend to have a fresh, almost citrus flavour.
Not being as naturally sweet can also mean that if you do need sweetness, this can be controlled by adding a pinch of sugar such as in our recipe for caramelised purple carrots, the sweet buttery glaze actually brings out the sweetness of the carrot while allowing its earthy tasting flesh to ultimately prevail.
Carrots are generally easy to grow. In Currabinny we use a large wooden barrel which is nice and deep, filled with earth and sand for drainage.
The carrots grow straight and because of the limits of space we have confined them to, they tend to be plucked young.
Anyone who has an experience of growing up with homegrown veg will often remember the carrot as the clearest example.
Their herb-like tops are easy to spot in a vegetable patch and are perfect for holding onto and pulling to reveal the carrots which you then must shake to get off the larger pieces of earth.
The tops are useful in other ways and are edible.
We always make a pesto with the peppery leaves, the recipe for which we have included here.
Don’t worry if you can’t find purple carrots, regular orange ones can be used in just the same way.
What I do love about the purple variety, if you can find them, is the peppery flavour and the sweetness they have which goes so well with roast pork or game birds like pheasant or duck.
6 purple carrots or mix of purple and orange
1 tbsp of sugar
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp of chopped parsley
1 tbsp butter
Drizzle of olive oil
50ml of water
Slice the carrot at an angle into thick half inch slices.
Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy based saucepan until bubbling.
Add the sugar, and water and stir for a moment. Tip in the slices of carrot and stir to coat, season with salt and pepper.
Put the slightly ajar on top of the saucepan and cook on medium high for 10 minutes.
Remove the lid and throw in the chopped parsley, stirring the carrots for another 5 minutes.
The liquid should have mostly evaporated leaving the carrots coated in a syrupy, buttery sauce.
This is a really healthy carrot cake which uses wholemeal spelt flour which adds a moreish nuttiness to the loaf.
Carrot cake is something we are all familiar with and a lot of us will have our own likes and dislikes when it comes to carrot cake; some like currants, others prefer walnuts or seeds, different spices and levels of sweetness.
This carrot cake seems very ‘healthy’ when you read the ingredients and its true that it isn’t super sweet but promise us, this combination of brown spelt flour, carrots, coconut and subtle spices is enough to make for the perfect carrot cake even if we do say so ourselves.
The icing is of course where we allow for a bit of sin, thick luxurious mascarpone with orange.
For the Loaf
100g wholemeal spelt flour
110g soft brown sugar
2 freerange eggs
75ml of rapeseed oil
175g of carrots grated
1 tsp of baking powder
1.5 tsp of bread soda
50g dessicated coconut
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
Half tsp of ground nutmeg
For the icing
2 tbsp of icing sugar
Juice and grated rind of an orange
Chopped walnuts fordecoration
Heat the oven to 190C
Grease and line a square 7in tin.
Grate the carrots finely, Whisk the eggs and sugar into a thick creamy batter.
Slowly pour the oil in while you whisk until the batter is well combined.
In a bowl, gently whisk the dry ingredients except for the carrots.
Add the dry ingredients in three batches folding into the batter and then add the grated carrots, stiring gently to combine.
Pour into the lined loaf tin and bake for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the ingredients for the icing firmly in a bowl.
When the cake is done, cool on a wire rack and then using a spatula cover the cake with the icing and sprinkle over a little chopped walnut.
It is becoming commoner to see bunches of carrots sold with their straggly, leafy tops still attached, even in the supermarket.
Not only do the tops keep the carrots fresher for longer but they can also be used, macerated into a fine pesto with a little parsley, lemon juice, garlic and good Irish cheese.
So next time you see a bunch of carrots with the tops still on, remember a simple and very tasty pesto is a possible bonus.
Handful of carrot tops
120ml rapeseed oil
Good pinch of seasalt
1 garlic clove, crushed
Juice of half a lemon
Small handful of walnuts, chopped
Small handful of parsley leaves, chopped
80g grated hard sheep cheese, cais na tire
Wash the carrot tops and dry with a tea towel.
Place in a food processor with the crushed garlic, walnuts, lemon juice, rapeseed oil and sea salt.
Fold in the grated cheese and check for seasoning.
You can add more oil for a looser pesto.