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Carrots are more complex than you might think; cook them carefully

When was the last time you thought about a carrot. Not just threw one in a soup pot. And for heavens sake, not picking up a bag of those horrid little “baby” carrots dieters snack on. I mean when was the last time you really considered a carrot?

They’re a lot more complex than you might think – a pretty neat little engineering feat. There’s the corky peel that protects the root, the pale woody core that functions as a pipeline to transport the water the root has collected to the greens, and there is the bright orange flesh that stores the sugars and nutrients the plant needs to grow.

Obviously, something this well-thought-out deserves thoughtful cooking too. And as appealing as carrots can be raw, I’d like you to consider pushing them a little past what may be your comfort zone the next time you cook them.

Carrots get sweeter and more complex the longer they’re cooked, up to a point. Try this sometime: Slice a carrot into rounds and then simmer it in a little water; every minute or so, pull out a slice and taste it. I think you’ll see what I mean.

Depending on the carrot and the heat of the simmer, you’ll probably find the best flavor at about 10 to 15 minutes, when the cut edges start looking a little fuzzy and soft. Of course, you could always add a little butter to the simmering liquid, and maybe some minced shallots and a shot of white wine.

Just something to think about.

How to choose: When possible, buy carrots that still have the tops attached, not because the greens are so delicious (though they do taste surprisingly good when prepared right), but because they’re the most reliable indicator of freshness. After that, choose the carrots that have the brightest, most intense color – those pigments fade in storage. And avoid any that have obvious flaws like nicks or too many little hairy roots.

How to store: Store carrots in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer. If you’re going to be keeping them for more than a couple of days, remove the tops as the greens will pull moisture from the roots, making them limp.

How to prepare: There once was a fashion for cooking carrots with their peels on, following the argument that it preserved nutritional quality. Considering the small amount of vitamins and minerals located in less than 1 millimeter of peel, and considering how that skin turns dark and drab when cooked, let’s have no more of that. It’s also a good idea, if the carrots are very mature, to cut out the woody core – quarter the carrot lengthwise and you should be able to trim it away easily.

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