Danny Carnevale has no time for “baby” carrots, those peeled, carrot-shaped pieces of mature carrot packed in ready-to-eat bags and marketed to moms.
If you want the real taste of a sweet, tender baby carrot, freshly dug from the garden, the owner of Veg-Pak Produce at the Ontario Food Terminal suggests you pick up a tray of locally grown Nantes, which he packs under the Harvest Fresh label.
Carnevale works with two Ontario and two Quebec growers to supply the slim orange carrot with rounded ends, which hails from the French city of Nantes. When the local harvest runs out around Christmas, he turns to U.S. and Mexican growers for year-round availability.
A handful of other Ontario growers including Riga Farms in the Holland Marsh and Nature’s Finest Produce near Chatham also grow and pack the sweet carrots, which are slowly growing in popularity each year thanks to word-of-mouth advertising.
“Of all the vegetables we pack, Nantes is the only one we get calls and letters about,” Carnevale says. “Once people try them and compare them to regular cooking carrots, it’s night and day.”
One advantage of this heirloom carrot, which has about 40 different cultivars and is a favourite at farmers’ markets, is that you don’t need to peel it. Since much of a carrot’s nutrition is found in the skin or just under it, this is a good thing!
“You can grill it, roast it, boil it or eat it raw all with the skin on,” Carnevale says. “Just rinse it, cut it and enjoy with dips or in any recipe from appetizer to dessert.”
He says the higher price reflects the fact that the Nantes requires more seeds per acre so it grows close together and stays small. It’s also more delicate and breaks easily, making washing and grading a challenge.
As demand increases, growers and shippers agree this is one sweet success story.
Buy & Store
- Look for Nantes carrots hiding in your supermarket’s packaged vegetable section, sold in a 1-pound (450g) plastic-wrapped styrofoam tray or pouch bag.
- Choose firm carrots with smooth skin and bright colour.
- Avoid cracked or soft carrots or those with green skin at the top.
- Refrigerate carrots, unwashed, in their original package or in a plastic bag up to one month.
- If you buy carrot bunches with the tops on, remove and discard tops when you get home. Store in plastic in the crisper up to 2 weeks. Mature carrots keep 3 to 4 weeks.
- Never store carrots and fruit together as the ethylene gas emitted by the fruit is easily absorbed and makes carrots bitter.
- Scrub under cool running water with a vegetable brush and trim ends.
- Though raw carrot sticks still have lots of nutrients, their beta carotene is more readily available when carrots are cooked or processed (e.g. chopped or puréed).
- Boil or steam: Cut in even coins or sticks and cook in a small amount of boiling water until just tender. Or steam over boiling water to preserve nutrients. Drain, toss with butter and finely chopped herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Roast: Scrub, trim and cut carrots into desired shape. Toss to coat in a little oil and/or butter and a little salt. Spread in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast at 450 F (230 C) until tender and golden, stirring once or twice.
- Nantes carrots can be used in any recipe calling for carrots where its fresh, sweet taste will shine.
- Enhance its sweetness with honey or orange juice or temper it with lemon juice.
- Pair its sweetness with dill, parsley, cilantro, fennel, ginger, cardamom and cumin.
- Salad: Shred finely and toss with a yogurt-cumin dressing.
- Planta chef David Lee serves a smoked heirloom carrot in a hot dog bun garnished with mustard and sauerkraut, while Bon Appetit suggests using carrot purée instead of tomato sauce on a pizza.
- Soup: Cook and purée for a carrot soup topped with yogurt. Dice and add to celery and onions as a base for any soup or stew.
- Dessert: Add Nantes’ sweetness to carrot cake.
Roasted Nantes Carrots with Brown Butter
Roasting brings out the sweetness of Nantes carrots, while brown butter adds a nutty note. Trendy coloured carrots also roast up beautifully.
2 lb Nantes carrots, scrubbed, trimmed
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp saltSer
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage or parsley or 2 tsp (10 mL) dried
Preheat to 450 F.
Cut carrots in half lengthwise. Place in a large bowl and toss with oil and salt. Spread in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring once, for about 20 minutes, or until tender.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, swirling pan occasionally, until it turns a toasty brown and has a nutty aroma, about 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and add sage. Transfer carrots to a serving dish and drizzle sage butter over top, leaving dark sediment behind. Garnish with sprigs of fresh sage if desired.