Wednesday February 20, 2013 | 01:00 AM

I’m crazy about carrots.  What's more  I’m thrilled that I can buy local varieties at farmers markets year round where they’re a plentiful staple at vendors’ bins.

Local carrots at the height of summer

At this time of year, they’re a great storage crop that remain sweet and tasty well into spring,.   And there are still plenty of different colored carrots around, too, though the red variety are the first to go; by the end of their storage season, they all tend to get slightly woody.

Bins of local fall carrots slightly less vivid in color

Before you know it real spring-dug carrots are around the corner.  Then  summer-long carrots are in overwhelming supply at farmers markets in all shapes, sizes and varieties.
The other day, however, I did a double take when I saw bags of baby carrots at the Rosemont Market labeled “fresh dug from Saco.”  Say what?

Out of curiosity,  I was tempted to buy a bag, but I’m guessing that a farmer found a few phantom bunches well protected by snow cover, which reappeared after our brief meltdown.

Glazed, or swathed with butter and dill, roasted in olive oil, chopped shallots and cracked black pepper or made into soup and added to stews and other braises, it’s an essential vegetable that one would really not want to be without. 

Sliced local winter carrots ready to be plunged into boiling water

For an easy side dish glazed carrots are delicious.  Put a pound into a wide pot, sliced in whatever shape you like and add just enough water to barely cover.  Season generously with salt and pepper and add about 2 teaspoons sugar and a whole clove crushed between thumb and forefinger.  Bring to a vigorous simmer and cook, uncovered, until the water has nearly evaporated into a glistening glaze.  You can add peas at the last minute or shredded lettuce for interest. 

Roasted local carrots with olive oil, shallots, herbs, salt and pepper

Another easy dish is a carrot casserole, an old-fashioned recipe that often pops up  in regional cookbooks.

I make this carrot casserole for my friends Sunnie and George when they come for dinner.  It's their favorite dish

It’s basically boiled carrots that are mashed, seasoned with salt and pepper, enriched with grated Cheddar cheese, crushed cracker crumbs, if you like, eggs and milk.  It’s more like a custard of casseroled carrots.  The version below is without the cracker crumbs.  Double the ingredients for  more servings..

Carrot Casserole
Servings: 4

1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon onion salt (or 1/4 cup chopped onions)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Butter for greasing the pan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the carrots in boiling salted water for about 25 minutes or until very tender.  Drain and either mash finely with a fork or put into the food processor and pulse the carrots and butter until you have a rough puree.  (It’s OK to have a few lumps). 

Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the cheese, egg, milk, onion salt (or chopped onions)and sugar.  Mix well

Grease a small casserole dish and spoon the carrots into the dish.  Bake for about 30 minutes until the custard is set and very lightly browned.  Serve immediately.

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About the Author

John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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