Not until my 40th year on Earth did I realize that the humble carrot had become my favorite vegetable. I started growing them with mixed results, but when the seeds make it through the onslaught of neighborhood squirrels that routinely make my enclosed garden space their home away from home, I am an extremely happy camper. I love prying loose and pulling up the bright orange roots from the clay-rich soil, cleaning them off, and biting into their perfect, earthy sweetness.
Raw, roasted, pureed or grated, lunch snack, side dish, juice or cake ingredient, the carrot is a diverse workhorse with a nutritional profile that rivals bell peppers, sweet potatoes and asparagus. In fact, the orange of the carrot gave rise to the term “carotene” – as in beta carotene – which is the yellow/orange pigment that gives vegetable and fruits their rich colors.
Nineteenth century German chemist Heinrich Wackenroder is credited with discovering the hydrocarbon from carrot juice in a paper published in 1831. Beta carotenes are a well-known subset of carotenes that we now recognize as antioxidants, which aid the immune system, protect against free radicals, and lower the risk of developing certain diseases, among other health benefits.
Per capita, several northern European countries are among the top 10 countries in the world for carrot consumption, including Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway. The online etymology dictionary credits Arabs with introducing a purple-rooted variety of carrot to Europe c.1100. According to a search in ChatGPT, carrots likely originated in Central Asia with cultivation going back to 5,000 years ago.
The ancient Greeks and Romans were among the first to cultivate carrots for their edible roots. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Dutch growers played a significant role in developing the orange carrot, selectively breeding varieties to enhance their sweetness and reduce bitterness. This led to the creation of the modern, sweet, and vibrant orange carrot.
In honor of Thanksgiving, this year I pay homage to the health, vibrancy, and diversity that the carrot has brought into my cooking and eating life. I have long loved a warming carrot-ginger soup on a crisp winter’s eve. But this year, the roasted variety sang to me as I gazed at the image of brightly roasted carrots in the New York Times online edition.
As author and cook Martha Rose Shulman writes, her recipe makes a soft and tender carrot in 30 or so minutes, although they can be cooked longer into a lovely caramelized state of perfection. If you’re looking for an easy, last minute, healthy, seasonally vibrant side dish for your Turkey Day table, look no further! May gratitude toward the carrot befall you this holiday season.
- 2 pounds carrots
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Peel carrots, cut into 2 inch segments, then quarter or cut into sixths lengthwise, depending on thickness/size. Chop the thyme. Toss carrots in a large bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme and oregano. Arrange carrots in a single layer on an oiled sheet pan or baking dish. Cover with foil. Cook for 20-30 minutes. Uncover. If the carrots are not yet tender turn down the heat to 375 degrees and return to the oven for 5 to 10 more minutes. If you’re after caramelized edges, roast uncovered for all or part of the cooking time. Sprinkle with parsley, and add more salt and pepper if desired. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.