Carrots are always with us. Even in the UK, the season is practically year round. Properly stored carrots can last for months. Improperly stored – which is the way I do it – they go a bit bendy after a couple of weeks. Their robustness also has a downside: we often use up more delicate purchases first, knowing the carrots will still be there in the fridge when the fun stuff has run out. Versatile though they may be, carrots don’t immediately inspire. And they certainly don’t get any more inspiring as they get bendier.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Carrots come in an enticing variety of sizes – from giant to micro – and a rainbow of colours. Orange is not the only carrot: there is also purple and yellow and white. We also need to consider non-standard carrot shapes: the bent, knobbly and two-legged. Carrots are subject to more fussy aesthetic scrutiny than almost any other vegetable. It is estimated that between a quarter and a half of all carrots grown are discarded for cosmetic reasons before they reach the shelves. If you see an ugly carrot, buy it.
When it comes to cooking, it is hard to think of a more forgiving vegetable: carrots can be eaten raw; they can also be stewed and pureed. And there is no texture between those two extremes you cannot claim to have arrived at by culinary choice. You probably already have a go-to recipe for those times when you are faced with the prospect of supper, the pointlessness of existence and a bunch of carrots. Here are 17 others to try.
This has been my go-to recipe for many years: braised carrots with parmesan, from Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Originally there was something counterintuitive about it that appealed to me – cooking carrots for an hour and a half seemed like a terrible idea – but it is delicious, completely reliable and still pretty good if your timings go wrong and you have to serve up before the full 90 minutes has elapsed.
Carrots – peeled in strips or cut into matchsticks – work in just about any salad, but take a leading role in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s carrot, orange and chervil salad. Chervil is hard to come by but easy to grow: fling a handful of seeds on to a bare patch of earth and you will soon have more chervil than realistic uses for it. In the meantime, you can substitute parsley.
Because of their texture, carrots often end up in meatless dishes in which meat is being approximated or at least hinted at. This is the case with these barbecued carrot hotdogs from vegetarian butcher (yes, that’s right) Suzy Spoon. At that same sitting, you may also enjoy Anna Jones’s carrot burgers alongside these carrot fries.
But if you are in the mood to barbecue and would rather let carrots be carrots, Yotam Ottolenghi offers these grilled carrots with red onion pickle. Before they hit the grill, the carrots are parboiled, drained, tossed in olive oil and maple syrup and left to rest.
You don’t see carrots paired with pasta often. I mean, I would use a finely chopped one in a bolognese sauce (Hazan does), more as a way of being rid of an old carrot than anything else, but I wouldn’t necessarily tell my family about it. Here, however, is a dish presented to Joe Trivelli by a colleague specifically to challenge the idea that carrots and pasta don’t go together: sausage and carrot gnocchetti. Here is another for good measure: Nigel Slater’s carrots with shallots and orzo.
For a quick vegetarian lunch you could do worse than Rachel Kelly’s spicy carrot kofte and not much better than this carrot, mushroom and hazelnut tart. For a vegan option, try these carrot and coriander fritters from Katy Beskow.
Carrot cake is now a pudding standard; its modern incarnation is a long way from the wartime privation model, or even the kind I first tried when I worked in aVermont coffee shop. Felicity Cloake’s perfect carrot cake is a cut above and, as she points out, not remotely good for you. Tom Hunt’s carrot and walnut cake is the vegan version, designed to make use of those wonky carrots that are good for nothing else.
Unfortunately, none of this ingenuity is enough to use up a kilo of hideously deformed carrots bought more in hope than expectation. To do that we must start preserving. First, get your head round the difference between pickled carrot and carrot pickle. For the former, you can pickle carrots as you would cucumbers, in brine, as in this simple recipe from the Minimalist Baker.
For carrot pickle, or achaar, I recommend this instructional video, one of a number available in which a pair of disembodied hands makes the condiment, in this case in a minute and 10 seconds.
You can also use the carrot tops to make chimichurri, although if you’re not growing your own I don’t know where you’re getting carrots with tops; they are generally cut off at the point of harvest (for a reason: leaving the tops on dries out the carrots quicker).
Finally, when you have exhausted all these ideas and still find yourself with carrots left over, it’s time to follow Jones’s example and make carrot marmalade. Jar it up and store in preparation for some imaginary carrot shortage of the future.