Roasting Colorful Carrots

It is the season for roasting winter vegetables, roots and squash, Brussels sprouts and leeks. It’s my favorite kitchen garden season and especially welcomed this year because its arrival means I can return to the chapter on roasting vegetables in Yotam Ottolenghi’s wonderful cookbook Plenty More (2014). I got this fourth Ottolenghi cookbook last fall and used the roasting chapter often throughout the winter, particularly enjoying the excellent winter squash recipes and a recipe for roasting carrots with cumin and coriander and a touch of honey. It’s the carrot recipe that’s first on my list to make again.

In his introduction to the recipe Ottolenghi suggests: “Make this extra vibrant by using different-colored carrots.” There’s a beautiful photo to support his advice, but last winter I had only my favorite orange Mokum carrots growing kitchen garden. With only orange carrots, the recipe was still very pretty and definitely delicious but I told myself that next year I would plant purple, white, and even some red carrots. I’d seen them in farmers’ markets and seed catalogs for a decade or more and it was time finally to plant some in my kitchen garden.

Carrot colors PFMaineColorful carrots aren’t new, just newly popular. As John Navazio summarizes in “More Colors for Carrots, (2000)” “The ubiquitous orange carrot is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was first documented in Dutch paintings in the 1600s. But the first cultivated carrots, which originated in Afghanistan around a.d. 900, were purple. And then in the 10th century, yellow carrots were documented in the Middle East. These early purple and yellow carrots were used for human consumption as well as for animal fodder. By the 14th century, carrots had reached Europe and China. Europeans, preferring the yellow types for their tables, began selecting for culinary attributes such as flavor, texture, and storability. By the 1600s, white and orange carrots emerged on the scene, the latter being prized for the human diet, probably because of its rich color. Over the next 200 years, orange became the carrot color of choice.”

In this fascinating article, Navazio goes on to explain that while plant breeders have long focused on improving the “flavor, texture and nutritional value” of orange carrots and ignored non-orange carrots, this focus is changing partly because the older, purple, yellow, red and white carrot varieties “have a virtual potluck of tastes” and partly because they “contain important healthful phytonutrients.” In the rest of the article he profiles the best of the colorful carrot varieties, offering history, nutritional information, planting and cooking tips for the “passionate purples, mellow yellows, true reds and wonderful whites.”

Inspired by Ottolenghi, Navazio and the beautiful bunches displayed at farmers’ markets, I studied seed catalog offerings and last January ordered Purple Haze and White Satin from Fedco and Red Samurai from Territorial, and not ready to abandon orange, more Mokum.  In April I planted some short rows of purple, white and red. The purple and the white carrots germinated and grew quickly. At harvest they were as beautiful as I’d anticipated and even better they were delicious, especially when roasted.

Carrots, colored, in basketPurple Haze is slender with a long, tapered root, dark purple on the outside and bright orange inside. White Satin is thicker and grows very quickly, rising above the soil level. I was happy to learn from Navazio that these tall “shoulders” which turn green in sunlight are safe to eat. The flesh underneath the green is as white and juicy as the rest of the carrot. The only disappointment was Red Samurai, which formed a robust top above ground but underground formed only a long, skinny, pinkish taproot, woody and flavorless. I’m hoping Territorial Seed Company will respond to my email asking for advice.

Carrots, colors, in roasting panIn late July I planted much longer rows of Purple Haze, White Satin and Mokum. Thanks to good weather and a tent of Reemay that foiled carrot rust fly, I’m now harvesting lovely bunches of colorful carrots for winter roasting with cumin, coriander, thyme and honey. The tahini yogurt sauce Ottolenghi suggests adds just the right nutty, acid flavors to balance the carrot sweetness but a simple squeeze of lemon before serving is good too and keeps the focus on the vibrant, flavorful carrots. Either way, I’m happy that I’m finally growing and roasting these colorful carrots. Next year, I’ll find a better red and add a yellow to the mix.

Carrots, colored, roasted

Honey-Roasted Carrots with Tahini Yogurt

From Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More (2014)

The inspiration for this was Sarah’s grandmother (“nan”) Dulcie in Tasmania, who always used to add some honey to the pan before roasting her carrots. I’m not sure what Dulcie would have thought about a tahini yogurt sauce served alongside, but the sweetness of the carrots certainly welcomes it. Make this extra vibrant by using different-colored carrots.

Serves 4

Tahini-yogurt sauce:

Scant 3 tablespoons/40 g tahini paste

2/3 cup/130 g Greek yogurt

2 tablespoon lemon juice

1 clove garlic, crushed salt

Carrots:

Scant 3 tablespoons/60 g honey

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and lightly crushed

1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed

3 thyme sprigs

Salt and black pepper

12 large carrots, peeled and each cut crosswise into two 2 1/2-inch/6-cm batons (3 pounds/1.3 kg)

1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C.

Place all the ingredients for the tahini sauce in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Whisk together and set aside.

Place the honey, oil, coriander and cumin seeds, and thyme in a large bowl with 1 teaspoon salt and a good grind of black pepper. Add the carrots and mix well until coated, (Don’t worry if the mixture doesn’t coat the carrots; it will when it warms in the oven.) then spread them out on a large baking sheet and roast in the oven for 40 minutes, stirring gently once or twice, until cooked through and glazed.

Transfer the carrots to a large serving platter or individual plates. Serve warm or at room temperature, with a spoonful of sauce on top, scattered with the cilantro.