Carrots – eat lots of them!

There is nothing quite like pulling a carrot straight from the garden, running it under the tap and eating the crunchy sweetness straight away.      But is it healthier to eat a carrot raw or cooked?  

I was surprised at the answer.  Carrots are more nutritious when cooked.   
A European study has revealed that 3% of the total beta-carotene content is released from raw carrots when consumed in raw pieces, juiced or pulped 21%, and cooking the carrot the accessibility was up to 27%. Addition of oil to the cooked pulp further increased the released amount to 39%.   It’s to do with the ability of our digestive system to extract the beta-carotene from the tough cellular walls of the raw carrot. (Reference: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2002)   
That childhood favourite of bubble and squeak (parsnip and carrot mash) is the healthiest of all if you add olive oil.
Don’t stop eating them raw – you do benefit from the vitamin C in carrots that is lost in cooking.   
The last of my autumn planted orange and purple carrots – their  “hairy legs”  show their age but they still taste sweet when cooked in the oven

This is good news for me because I love carrots cooked in the oven and Farmers Market chef Alison Lambert gave me an excellent way of cooking them.   I have a request for that recipe to go with the gremolata topping I gave in the parsley posting.  

Caramelised Carrots with Gremolata (lemon and parsley topping)

(serves 4)
2 Tbsp oil 
50g butter
600 g carrots (if small keep whole or cut in half lengthwise) *
(or a mix of carrots and parsnips)
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic, squashed lightly but kept unpeeled
Preheat the oven to 180C.  
Place your roasting dish into the oven to heat up so that when you add the carrots they immediately roast and colour up.
Put carrots, thyme, and garlic into bowl with oil, butter and season.  Toss and combine so that the carrots are coated in oil.
Toss into a preheated roasting tray and give it a light shake, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes
Remove foil and continue to roast for a further 20 minutes or until tender and golden.
Toss  through or sprinkle on top the gremolata and serve immediately – you need to do this last minute so that when the vegetables are placed on the table they have that fresh fragrance of the parsley and lemon zest.  
You can also mix in some mint with the parsley which would work really well for some vegetables, e.g courgettes and asparagus.
Use this method of mixing the oil or dressing through and then tossing onto a preheated tray for all your vegetable roasting adventures and experiment with other herbs e.g. marjoram, rosemary
 * Good to know:   Carrots cooked without being sliced have one quarter more of the anti-cancer compound falcarinol than those that are chopped up first.  So limit the cutting up as much as you can until after they are cooked.   I saw on a television programme that it doesn’t take any longer to cook a carrot whole than to cook it sliced.   

Purple carrots are not just a trendy addition to your carrot options.   They tend to have greater quantities of anti-oxidants and vitamins than the orange variety.   
The more intense the colour, the higher beta-carotene content the vegetable or fruit has and this includes greens like kale, silverbeet and broccoli.   I have purchased six orange cauliflowers called Cheddar Cheese so I imagine these contain beta-carotene.
My family used to joke that my son Francis was raised on raw carrots like a rabbit.  He was my only fussy eater but he would eat raw carrots.   Perhaps Francis knew a thing or two because carrots are so good for you.   Carrots help your eyesight, hair and nails,  regulate blood sugar, lower blood pressure, improve your ability to fight infection, assist in fighting liver and heart disease and for breast feeding mothers can enhance the quality of breast milk – so why wouldn’t you eat lots of them!    

But there is a warning that you can overdose on vitamin A especially if you are consuming lots of carrot juice.   People have turned up in doctors surgeries looking quite orange with vitamin A poisoning.

My favourite juice combination is carrot, apple and ginger and is a great tonic to take if you are fighting infection or feel your body is under stress – and it tastes so good!

Jamie Oliver first introduced me to baking carrots and I often do carrots this way or mix with some other vegetables.  He uses thyme but I often use marjoram – you can use either or try tarragon as it’s delicious with carrots.


Baked Carrots with Cumin, Marjoram and Chardonnay
(serves 4)
450g preferably whole new carrots scrubbed
1/2 tsp ground cumin* (you can add a little more as to your taste but cumin can easily dominate)
About 1 Tbsp of fresh marjoram or oregano or a couple of sprigs of thyme
Olive oil or I really like Avocado oil with lime for this – or you can use butter
1 glass chardonnay (or any leftover white wine and just as much as you have leftover)
Seasoning with salt and pepper

Jamie Oliver does this all in a large piece of foil.   I tend to use a covered casserole dish.  He mixes everything together on the foil (like I did in the bowl in the previous recipe), brings the sides up and then add the wine and scrunch the foil together to seal.

He cooks this for 45 minutes at 220C or longer for older bigger carrots.  I tend to cook them for 50 minutes at 180C fanbake in the casserole dish.   But it can fit in with whatever else is in the oven temperature wise – just the cooking time will vary.

I often cook potatoes and other vegetables this same way with some squashed garlic to make a one pot vegie meal for the two of us.    New potatoes are especially delicious.

The foil method is handy to use if you haven’t got much room in your oven as it can be shaped to fit, or if you are somewhere where there are not enough oven dishes.  It’s great to present for an outside meal as it looks rustic and casually thrown together…which is it.

* Its important that your ground spices are fresh so that the oils and fragrance remain.   You don’t need to buy ground cumin you just need cumin seeds.   Put them into a small heavy pan on the stove top and toast until you can smell the fragrance – it will only take about ten seconds.  Now put the seeds into a spice grinder (a coffee grinder you keep for the purpose) or grind with a mortar and pestle.  Now smell the difference between the ground cumin you buy and the one you have prepared.

Carrot tops contain vitamin K but the carrot itself doesnt

I didnt know you could eat carrot tops.   I won’t will be eating my aged carrot tops for vitamin K but I will try some baby carrot tops when they arrive.   I need to plant some carrots soon so that I can enjoy lots of carrots over the summer.    I do prefer to get my vitamin K from parsley (see my previous post on parsley).

Parsley – a super food not simply a garnish

The humble parsley – who would guess it’s actually a super food rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre.    Yet how many times do you see it looking sadly discarded on a plate at a restaurant?

Curly Leaf parsley – not quite as strong a flavour as Italian flat leaf for cooking



To grow parsley at the start can be tricky but once its established you will always have it.   It doesnt like being transferred as it has a root system like a carrot, but I have had better luck if the seedlings are really little. One plant will usually last for two seasons.    I let parsley run to seed and in my garden wherever it lands it stays.   It seems to thrive in partial shade but it also grows in the sunny sites.


Gremolata 

My son, Gus the chef, let me into this secret of creating a fresh bouquet for dishes that have been slowly cooked, especially casseroles.   It’s really easy and so effective.

Finely chop parsley, half a clove of garlic and zest from a lemon and add last minute to your dish so that the aroma is still there when you take it to the table.   Now that’s a garnish!





I was reminded again of  Gremolata last night when I  attended chef Alison Lambert’s 3 hour cooking class celebrating spring.   Alison introduced us to this topping as a final garnish/flavouring for her oven roasted carrots.   

Alison gave us a wonderful night’s entertainment talking about living and working in Europe for 10 years, giving us handy hints that I will pass onto you (promise) and a gorgeous two course meal featuring a Greek lamb dish with pasta…yum! (might make that for the next family gathering).   Alison is the Dunedin Farmers’ Market chef and like me she stands by herbs stating that they can change dishes from ordinary to something extraordinary.    

I am sure, like me, you will now have new respect for the humble herb parsley. 

Parsley is said to assist in treating PMT, menopause and easing cramps. Eating parsley everyday is claimed to reduce blood pressure.  It’s probably the richest herb source of Vitamin K and is loaded with vitamins A, C and B that strengthens the body’s immune system, stimulates digestion of protein and fat.   It is a diuretic that helps to rid the body of sodium and a good source of folic acid as well as iron. Chlorophyll found in parsley is a good cure to stop and avoid bad breath – that’s why it is recommended that you eat it after consuming garlic.