Moms have long told kids that eating carrots guarantees good eyesight, so it's not surprising that nearly every kitchen has a few of these healthful root vegetables in the refrigerator bin. They turn up raw in lunch boxes and cooked in soups, stews, braises, salads, stir-fries and side dishes. A favorite role is in moist carrot cake topped with cream cheese frosting. Another popular role—and one that is especially good for you—is bright orange carrot juice. Small carrots, already trimmed and peeled and packaged in 8- or 16-oz. plastic bags, are popular as a quick and easy snack food.
Members of the parsley family, carrots are among the least expensive of all vegetables. They are a good source of vitamin A, which actually accumulates during the months of storage after the carrots have been harvested. Their sweetness intensifies, too, during storage. Only beets have a higher sugar content among root vegetables.
Look for smooth, firm, brightly colored carrots without cracks or any green, whitening or sprouting around the stems. Larger carrots tend to have woody cores, while baby carrots are tender but not especially sweet. Smaller, slender, mature carrots are the tastiest. Those with the feathery greens still attached, a sign of freshness, generally are more expensive. They are not necessarily a better buy, however. The greens draw moisture and nutrients from the orange carrot roots and should be removed and discarded as soon as you get the carrots home. (In many markets, the greengrocer will chop off the greens for you.) Already-trimmed carrots can be just as flavorful as those with their tops attached.
Store carrots in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. They like both cool temperatures and high humidity. Do not store carrots near fruit such as bananas or apples, which emit ethylene gas and can give carrots a bitter flavor. Carrots that have become slightly limp from overlong storage can be revived by a 30-minute soak in ice water.
Trim off the root and stem ends. If the carrots are organic and on the small side, simply scrub them under cold running water with a soft vegetable brush and use them without peeling, since many nutrients will be lost if the peel is removed. If the carrots are not grown organically, peel them and trim at least an inch from the stem end, where pesticides concentrate. If the carrots have a woody core, remove it by halving the carrots lengthwise and cutting out the center with a small sharp knife.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion, (Time-Life Books, 2000).