Originally a tiny, purple-hued vegetable, grown in Afghanistan, carrots are today grown in mild climates across the world. Most modern varieties are reddish-orange, have a tapered sausage-shape, and are sweet-tasting.
Regular British carrots are grown throughout the year, while young summer carrots are best enjoyed in summer.
Choose firm-textured carrots with a uniform colour, free of any cracks. If the leaves are attached, they should be slightly damp with a fresh green colour. If you're planning to keep them for a few days, cut the leafy tops away. They'll keep for about 4-6 days in a cool dry cupboard.
Baby carrots have a delicate, more subtle flavour than mature winter carrots, and are best used as fresh as possible.
IN THE KITCHEN
When boiled or steamed, carrots make a traditional accompaniment to British dishes, especially roast meats and hearty main courses.
Baby summer carrots are best cooked whole, without peeling. Allow around 5-7 minutes, blanching or steaming time - they should be just tender, with a hint of crispness.
Winter carrots should be peeled and chunked or sliced before boiling or steaming. Cover with enough cold water to barely cover, add a teaspoon of butter to every 500g, a pinch of sugar and seasoning to taste. Simmer until the carrots are tender and the cooking liquid has almost evaporated.
Their close-textured character makes them an ideal base for vegetarian soups and key ingredient in casseroles and stir-fries. Popular in Middle Eastern cooking, carrots are often steamed, spiced and mashed before being shaped into savoury patties.
Their sweetness also lends itself to cakes and desserts. Gajar halwa, a warming Indian pudding, is made from cooked-down sweetened carrots, simmered in spiced milk. Carrot cake is another top choice, which often contains cinnamon and chopped walnuts.
Mint, parsley and coriander make good herby matches with carrots. Ring the changes and add a pinch of pounded, lightly toasted coriander seeds in creamy carrot soup.
When grated or shaved, their crisp texture works well in salads.
Healthy and fresh tasting, they make great lunchbox fillers, and are handy to serve as dunks for dips.