With spring and warmer weather on the way, we’ll soon be getting access to a broad range of wonderful produce items from our great New Jersey farmers.
But this transition time offers a perfect opportunity to enjoy some healthy and delicious vegetables that are available all year-round—especially carrots. I thought I’d share some fun facts about this tasty, crunchy and highly nutritious root vegetable to remind you of its benefits and why it makes a great addition to your plate!
All About Carrots
Carrots used to be sold with their tops on, but most supermarkets now carry only cello-pack carrots because, surprisingly, leaving the tops on quickly robs a carrot of its moisture and sweetness. If you do plan on buying fresh carrots with their tops still on, be sure to use them immediately.
Carrots are grown practically everywhere—Canada, New York, Michigan, etc.—but the farther west they’re grown, the sweeter they are. By far, the best and sweetest carrots are grown in the soft, alkaline soil of California. Although medium-sized carrots are the sweetest, even large California carrots taste better than carrots grown elsewhere. From my experience, for example, Florida carrots can be bitter and become limp very fast. Cello-pack baby carrots, which are available year-round and are often pre-washed and trimmed, can be a good buy, as these immature carrots are usually tender and sweet.
In terms of benefits, carrots are extremely rich sources of Vitamin A, beta-carotene and antioxidants, which help promote eye health and vision, build immunity and prevent cancer. Carrots also contain a wealth of carotenoids (the pigment that gives carrots their orange color), which help the body stave off and/or manage diabetes. Their high potassium content helps regulate blood pressure and enhance heart health. And because carrots are high in fiber and are actually comprised of nearly 90 percent water, they enhance feelings of fullness and are a dieter’s dream.
Selection and Storage
When selecting, look for bright, shiny carrots; the crown, or top of the root, should have a slightly green, red or purplish cast where it’s been exposed to the sun. The lower part of the root should be deep orange, and free of bruises and rot. Inspect cello-packed carrots through the bag to ensure that they have good color and haven’t developed cracks or long white root hairs (this means those carrots have been in storage too long and will be limp, dry and tasteless). You can revive carrots that have gone limp by placing them in ice water; though they’ll still have lost some flavor, this process will help bring back the crunch. And they’ll crisp up even faster if they’re trimmed and halved lengthwise, or cut into sticks.
Carrots have a lot of natural sugar in them, so the less you do to them, the better. In fact, a fresh carrot doesn’t even have to be peeled—just rinse and trim it, or give it a quick scrub with a vegetable brush and cold water. If you want to enjoy them hot, cook or sauté carrots briefly, until they’re just tender or al dente.
Carrots can be grated into salads, cut into sticks, steamed, baked, braised, creamed, puréed or made into juice. Enjoy them in slaws, with hummus or tahini, in smoothies and soups, or roasted in the oven with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
And let’s not forget about the joys of carrot cake, which has long been ranked one of America’s favorite desserts. My wife, Bette, makes a delicious carrot cake that our whole family enjoys throughout the year. I know you’ll love it, too!
Bette’s Easy Carrot Cake
Makes one 8- or 9-inch layer cake, or one 9 x 13-inch sheet cake
- 4 eggs
- 3 cups grated carrots
- 2 cups flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1½ cups vegetable oil
- 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon salt
Cream cheese icing
- 1 pound confectioners’ sugar (or less to taste)
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- ½ cup (1 stick) butter
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, blend together oil and sugar. Beat in eggs, then add dry ingredients and mix well. Add grated carrots and walnuts; mix until blended. For a two-layer cake, pour batter into greased 8- or 9-inch cake pans and bake for 25 minutes. For a sheet cake, pour batter into greased 9 x 13-inch pan and bake for one hour. For the cream cheese icing, cream together all ingredients until smooth. Cool the baked cake, then frost with cream cheese icing and enjoy!
About “Produce Pete” Napolitano
With over 65 years of experience in the produce industry, New Jersey’s own “Produce Pete” Napolitano is a renowned fruit and vegetable expert, author and TV personality who’s appeared on a highly popular segment on NBC’s Weekend Today in New York Saturday mornings for over 28 years. His new book, They Call Me Produce Pete: Food, Memories and Cherished Family Recipes From America’s Favorite Expert on Fruit and Vegetables, is now available. For more information, visit producepete.com.
About Susan Bloom
A regular contributor to New Jersey Monthly and a variety of other well-known local and national publications, Susan Bloom is an award-winning New Jersey-based freelance writer who covers topics ranging from health and lifestyle to business, food and more. She’s collaborated with Produce Pete on a broad range of articles for over a decade.
No one knows New Jersey like we do. Sign up for one of our free newsletters here. Want a print magazine mailed to you? Purchase an issue from our online store.Click here to leave a comment