Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 31 Aug 2011. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.
In the belly
Carrots come in many colors: orange, yellow, red, purple, white, and black. Known scientifically as Daucus carota, they belong to the belong to the apiaceae or umbelliferous family, along with parsnips, parsley, dill, and cumin. The carrot is a biennial, and will flower in the second year if it doesn’t get eaten first.
Carrots are rich in copper, calcium, potassium, manganese and phosphorus, vitamins B,C,D,E, and of course beta-carotene, which gives them that familiar orange color. The skin has the most nutrients, and a quick boil can make the nutrients, wherever they are, more available to the body. These are details, however — the best way to prepare any vegetable is, when it comes right down to it, the way you’re most likely to eat it. Carrots are good against cancer, eye trouble, heart disease, stroke, fat and age in general, and good for skin and teeth. Did you know the greens are edible? I think I’ve mentioned that before, but didn’t know that carrot greens are a good source of vitamin K, which the carrot root doesn’t provide.
It is actually posible to eat too many carrots, although most people can only accomplish it by drinking carrot juice. Carotenemia is the medical term for increased blood levels of the pigment carotene, and it can be recognized when the skin turns yellow or orange — it usually clears up in a few days if you lay off the carrots (do not confuse carotenemia with lycopenemia, which is caused by too many tomatoes and turns the skin red). Too much carotene can cause jaundice, a more serious problem, and too much vitamin A can damage the liver (note: polar bear liver is extremely high in vitamin A and can cause vitamin A poisoning, so arctic explorers are advised to avoid it).
In the kitchen
I love the smell of fennel, the beautiful delicate fronds… but once you get it home, then what? Here are some ideas from one of my old standby reference cookbooks, James Peterson’s Vegetables.
fennel bulbs, stalks removed
Peel off any thick fibers from the outside of the bulb. If bulbs are thicker than 1.5 inches, split them down the middle; cut largest bulbs into 3-6 wedges. Toss with oil and grill 10-15 min. per side, until light brown.
Fennel mashed potatoes
1 bulb fennel
1.5 lb. potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/4 to 1/2 c milk (may use cooking liquid for some of this)
4-6 Tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
Remove stalks from the fennel and cut the bulb in half; thinly slice. Bring potatoes and fennel to a boil in enough water to cover halfway; reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 25 min. (well, check at 15 for local ones — ed.). Drain and mash the potatoes and fennel. Heat milk and melt the butter into it; add to potatoes and stir in. Season to taste and, if necessary, rewarm in the cooking pot.
Variation: if you have trouble with fennel lumps, cook it separately until very soft, puree in a blender and strain into the potatoes.
Italian-style cardoon and bean soup with garlic and fennel
1 small bulb fennel, stalks removed, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
3 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 med. onion, chopped
1/2 c dried great northern, cannellini, or cranberry beans, soaked 3-5 hr. in warm water and drained
6 c broth or water, plus more as needed
1 bunch cardoons
4 med. tomatoes (or 24 oz. drained canned tomatoes) peeled, seeded, and chopped
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley or basil
grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish
Heat fennel, garlic, and onion in the oil. stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 10 min. Add beans and broth; simmer, partially covered, until beans are soft and not mealy when bitten, 1.5 hr. Remove and discard outer stalks of the cardoon; cut smaller stalks in half lengthwise and peel, then cut into 4-inch pieces. Gently simmer in 3 qt. water and a little lemon juice 15-20 min.; drain and slice into 1/4-inch pieces and freeze all but 2 c for later use. When the beans are cooked, add cardoons and tomatoes and simmer 5 min.; add water or broth to thin the soup if desired. Season; stir in parsley or basil and serve with Parmesan.
Cardoons, by the way, are related to the artichoke and thistle and can be a little hard to find. They grow well here but don’t usually show up in markets much (possibly because they can be a little aggressive. OK, invasive). I planted one in my front yard once, but my neighbor thought it was a giant thistle and very kindly cut it down for me. Sigh. I get the impression that celery might be a good substitute, perhaps with some adjustment of cooking times.
Thanks for your interest in our community and its market.