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The Darina Allen Column - Carrots

Darina Allen

This month Darina talks about one of the unsung heroes of our kitchens - the humble carrot

Bet you didn’t know there was such a thing as an International Carrot Day, well indeed there is. It is celebrated every year on April 4th, the day when virtues of the carrot are highlighted through Carrot Parties and Carrot related festivities around the world.

I’m completely baffled as to why this date was chosen considering most gardeners haven’t even sown the seed at that stage in the year. We got our early crop into the soil in the greenhouse at the end of February but they are only just above the ground now.

Nonetheless, any reminder to give the humble carrot due recognition is welcome and there are lots of fat crunchy carrots still around in the shops and greengrocers - and piled high on Joseph Burns’ stall in the Midleton Farmers Market, side by side with parsnips, freshly dug and still covered in earth. That’s the way I like to buy them, they keep better, taste better and ultimately I suppose have even more nutrients because the skin is not damaged in any way by washing.

Carrots are one of our four basic vegetables alongside onions, cabbage and potatoes. We pretty much take them for granted but let’s focus for a minute or two on their many attributes. They are a powerhouse of nutrients, can be eaten raw, they store for months and will keep for several weeks even in a home fridge. They are immensely versatile in the kitchen.

Carrots are one of the few vegetables that virtually every child will eat. In fact one of my grandchildren ate almost nothing but raw carrots for months on end when he was about 3. We had to save the end of a row of carrots in the garden to feed the ‘carrot-monster’ habit.

Darina Allen

When children from local schools come to visit the farm and vegetable gardens during the season, we encourage them to pull a carrot from the ground, wash it under the tap in the greenhouse and then they munch it with relish.

Many, in fact I would say most, have never seen a carrot growing; they presume they come already washed in a plastic bag from the supermarket. It’s a similar story for most other foods, milk, meat and some are disgusted by the thought of them coming from the ground and from an animal, such is the paranoia around hygiene and food safety. How scary is that….there’s a serious piece of education to be done and urgently.

Carrots are a rich source of both alpha and beta carotene and also goodly amounts of Vitamin K and B6 and dietary fibre. They’ve also been associated with eye health but their impact on our night vision may be overestimated.

Nonetheless they are super nutritious and because of their sweetness the cook can have fun using them in many sweet as well as savoury dishes. The tender young leaves can be used in carrot pesto or dipped in a batter and deep fried.

Carrots were originally grown for their leaves and flowers. Wild carrots are thought to have originated in Central Asia, Persia (now part of Iran and Afghanistan). They were bred selectively over the centuries to reduce the bitterness, increase sweetness and minimise the woody core and now we have carrots of many colours, red, white, yellow, purple, black and of course orange. They are sometimes long and tapered or more squat depending on the variety.

Carrots are amazingly inexpensive considering they take an average of three months to grow from seed. We all know they are super versatile, include them in chunky or creamy soups, tagines, stews, as a vegetable, roast them, boil them, grate them for salads, add to a carrot cake, transform them into carrot spaghetti with a spiraliser. Make carrot crisps, or make a surprisingly delicious jam or chutney and then there’s carrot juice….I love fresh carrot juice, maybe add some apple, a little ginger and a few leaves of fresh mint!

We’ve also been getting lots of compliments when we add carrot juice to a risotto – here’s the recipe we use plus some other favourite ways to enjoy this under appreciated vegetable and now how about a Carrot Party….

RECIPES

A Carrot Risotto

This is super delicious, made with fresh carrot juice, you really have to try it, my grandchildren love it too. This risotto is soo good. We love it on its own or with a pan-grilled lamb chop and rocket salad.

Serves 4-6

425ml (15fl.oz) home made chicken stock
225ml (8fl.oz) fresh carrot juice, (4 medium carrots, weighing approx.. 400g/14oz)
25g (1oz) butter
50g (2oz) onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt and freshly ground pepper
200g (7oz) Basmati rice
50ml (2fl oz) dry white wine
50g (2oz) finely grated Parmesan or Coolea cheese
2-4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Put the chicken stock, carrot juice and 450ml (16fl.oz) water in a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer over a low heat. Meanwhile, melt half the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat, add the chopped onion, cook gently until soft but not coloured, about 5 minutes. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Increase the heat, add the rice and stir until all the grains are coated and translucent, 2-3 minutes. Add the wine, stir and cook until absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Add 125ml (4fl.oz) hot liquid, stir until most of the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding broth, a small ladle at a time till it is all incorporated and the rice is tender and still a tiny bit al dente, 25-30 minutes.

Stir in remaining 10g (½oz) butter and half the Parmesan. Taste, correct the seasoning, sprinkle with chopped parsley and freshly grated Parmesan and serve immediately.

 

Julia Wight’s Carrot Cake

This recipe for carrot cake, by far the best one I know and was given to me by a dear friend. It keeps for ages.

7oz (200g) fine wholemeal or spelt flour
3 level teaspoons mixed spice
1 level teaspoon bread soda
3oz (75g) soft brown sugar
2 large eggs, preferably free range
1/4 pint (150 ml) sunflower oil
grated rind of 1 orange
7oz (200g) grated carrot
4oz (110g) sultanas
2oz (50g) dessicated coconut
2oz (50g walnuts, chopped

Cream Cheese Icing (see recipe), or Glaze:

juice of 1 small orange
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3oz (75g) soft brown sugar
Decoration (optional)
toasted flaked almonds or pumpkin seeds (crystallized – optional)

Loaf tin 9 inch (23 cm) x 5 inch (12.5 cm) x 2 inch (5 cm) lined with silicone paper

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Put the flour, spice and bread soda into a bowl and mix well. Whisk the eggs with the sugar and oil in another bowl until smooth. Stir in the dry ingredients, add the orange rind, grated carrot, sultanas, coconut and walnuts. Pour into the lined tin. Bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes until well risen and firm to the touch. Meanwhile make the glaze. Mix the sugar with the orange and lemon juice in a bowl. While the cake is still warm prick the top with a skewer, pour the glaze over the cake and leave in the tin to cool.

This cake can also be made in a round tin (7x 3inch/17.5 x 7.5cm deep) which needs to be lined and will only take 1hour in the oven.

Note: When this cake is made in a round tin, the cream cheese icing is very effective and is a very tasty finish.

Cream Cheese Icing

Do twice the icing to coat a round carrot cake.


3oz (75g) cream cheese
1 1/2oz (45g) icing sugar
1 1/2oz (45g) butter
grated rind on 1/2 orange

Mix all the ingredients together and spread over the top of the carrot cake. Sprinkle with toasted flaked almonds or pumpkin seeds, crystallized if you fancy.

 

Carrot Crisps

You can make vegetable crisps from a variety of different vegetables: parsley, celeriac, beetroot, Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes of course. But you need to be careful with the ones that are very high in sugar, because they need to be cooked at a lower temperature, otherwise they’ll be dark and bitter. Serves about 8

a few raw carrots, small to medium-sized
oil in a deep-fat fryer
salt

Use a vegetable peeler to peel the carrot. Then slice on a mandolin into paper-thin slices. Leave them to dry out on kitchen paper (this may take several hours). You want them to be dry, otherwise they’ll end up being soggy when you cook them.

Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 140ºC (275ºF) and cook slowly, a few at a time. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt.

 

Angels Hair (Carrot Jam)

A blob of this carrot jam makes a super delicious starter with goat cheese, mozzarella and a few fresh rocket leaves.

600g (1 1/4lbs) carrots
500g (18oz/2 1/4 cups) caster sugar
zest of 2 large lemon, cut into strips
freshly squeezed juice of 2 large lemon
6 cardamom pods, split

Trim and scrape the carrots. Grate on a medium sized grater. Put into a pan with the sugar, lemon zest and juice and the cardamom pods. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then boil hard until the mixture is very thick.

Place into a warmed, sterilised jar and seal tightly.
  

Ballymaloe LitFest 2017

The fifth annual Ballymaloe LitFest runs from Friday 19th to Sunday 21st May 2017, and all of the events over this exciting and stimulating weekend are now confirmed, scheduled and available to book on www.litfest.ie

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 '30 Years at Ballymaloe' - Bord Gáis Avonmore Cookbook of the Year 2013

Good Food Ireland Cookery School of the Year 2012/2013

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Ballymaloe Cookery SchoolOnce again, the Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork has a great programme of cookery courses for all interests and abilities running throughout 2017. Ranging from a relaxing visit to sit in on an afternoon cookery demonstration to a week long ‘Intensive Introductory Course’.

Sitting in the middle of a 100 acre organic farm the Ballymaloe Cookery School provides its students not only with a life skill learnt under the expert tutelage of their very capable teachers but also a place to relax and unwind from the stresses and strains of normal everyday life. The cottage accommodation available onsite for residential courses consists of a collection of delightful converted outbuildings which have been transformed over the years by the Allens, and other accommodation is available locally for the short courses.

www.cookingisfun.ie

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