A fat bunch of late summer carrots, long, slim and with feathery plumes, is a sight to lift the spirits. In the kitchen, they grate without turning to mush the way the early spring varieties do, and are substantial enough to become, along with onions and celery, the backbone of the first slowly simmered dish of the autumn.
Raw or lightly steamed, the carrot’s inherent sweetness is tamed with something sour – a dash of lemon juice, a spoonful of thick yoghurt or kefir, or a tangle of red cabbage. Roasted they will soften while their edges become as chewy as toffee – a vehicle for a sharp sauce or dressing with crème fraîche or lemon oil. To modernise a retro grated carrot salad I like to add pink, lightly pickled onions, chopped lemon thyme or Japanese pickles.
I rather like the multi-coloured carrots you find in farm shops and veg boxes – roots the colour of beaujolais or mustard, crisp and white like a young turnip, others magenta or imperial yellow. The flavour is no different from a bog-standard carrot, but to pile them on to a dish for crunching with a spicy dip, is fun, especially if they have spent an hour in iced water first.
I have grown carrots from seed in my own garden, fought off the dratted carrot fly and eaten my harvest of bent and knobbly roots straight from the ground (too many stones and clay here for them, they grow better – if less amusingly – in a fine, sandy soil). But I would need an entire allotment’s worth of space to be self-sufficient.
This week, I made a sweetly spiced, cardamom, cashews and cream dish with my bunch of carrots, a recipe whose golden sauce we mopped up with steamed basmati. And later, a plate of roasted roots with a basil and crème fraîche sauce I’d be happy to eat with almost anything.
Carrots respond to mild, sweet spicing – the sort of softness similar to that of a korma. When it comes time to finish the dish, you can successfully add the cream while the stew is simmering, but it is crucial to remove it from the heat before stirring in the yoghurt. To do so while the dish is bubbling, even slightly, risks the sauce curdling. You could use small, new parsnips, too, if you wish, substituting them for half the carrots. Serves 4 as a main dish
onions 2, medium
vegetable oil or melted butter 3 tbsp
garlic 2 cloves
cashews 75g, roasted and salted
green cardamoms 12
cumin seeds 2 tsp
coriander seeds 2 tsp
ground turmeric 1 tsp
ground mild chilli powder ½ tsp
black pepper ¼ tsp
vegetable stock 750ml
cinnamon 1 stick
coriander leaves 15g
double cream 3 tbsp
natural yoghurt 3 tbsp
rice steamed, to serve
Peel and roughly chop the onions. Warm the olive oil or butter in a large, deep pan over a moderate heat – I use a heavy, enamelled pan, 24cm in diameter – then add the onions. Peel and grate the ginger on the coarse side of a grater, then add to the pan. Peel and finely slice the garlic, then add to the onions and continue cooking, stirring regularly for 10-12 minutes, until the onions have softened, to a translucent, pale gold.
While the onions cook, open the cardamom pods and scrape out the seeds, then, using a spice mill or pestle and mortar, grind them to a gritty powder with the cumin and coriander seeds. Stir into the golden onions, then add the ground turmeric, chilli and black pepper. Let the spices toast fragrantly for a minute or two, stirring occasionally and taking care they don’t burn, then finely chop and add half of the salted, roasted cashews. Reserve the other half.
Halve the carrots lengthways, then chop into 4-5cm lengths. Once the onion, spice and nut mixture is nicely toasted, stir in the carrots and let them cook for a minute or two before pouring in the stock. Add the cinnamon stick, a generous seasoning of salt and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, partially cover with a lid, then simmer for 25 minutes or until the carrots are just tender.
Roughly chop the coriander. Stir in the cream and, when the sauce is back up to temperature remove from the heat then stir in the yoghurt, reserved cashews and chopped coriander. Serve with rice.
A particular favourite of mine, for the way the mild tartness of the crème fraîche contrasts with the sweetness of the roasted carrots. The whole dish tastes of summer. A good side dish, this way with carrots is also inviting as a main dish, alongside steamed brown rice flecked with parsley with black pepper. Serves 4 as a side dish
carrots 650g (weight without tops)
olive oil 2 tbsp
For the basil cream:
mixed parsley, basil and dill 15g (total weight)
lemon juice 1 tbsp
olive oil 3 tbsp
crème fraîche 100ml
Get out a roasting tin or baking dish large enough to hold the carrots and set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6.
Scrub the carrots – I only peel them if their skins are thick, which is unlikely at this time of year – then slice them in half lengthways. Put them into the roasting tin, pour over the olive oil, grind over a little salt and black pepper, then tumble them together so the carrots are well coated with oil and seasonings.
Roast in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, turning them over halfway through. They are done when they are tender and their edges have caramelised a little.
While the carrots are roasting, make the basil cream. Using a food processor, reduce the parsley and basil leaves, dill fronds and olive oil to a thin, bright green paste. Scrape into a bowl with a rubber spatula then stir in the crème fraîche.
Remove the carrots from the oven and transfer to a serving dish, then trickle the herb sauce over them and serve.
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