Local harvests take a deep dive in January as the crispy chilly air and shorter days force plant energies below ground. The payoff? A plethora of root veggies, and more specifically, carrots of many colors and sizes start to dominate a few market tables. Yes, we see the noble and versatile carrot here year round, but January is its prime season and this time of year, you'll see and taste varieties that you can't find during the warmer months. This week, look for the (soon-to-be-renamed - more on that after the jump) Atomic Red from Weiser Family Farms.
The Atomic Red is actually a vibrant deep Brandywine pink. But when cooked, the red color goes into overdrive. So red, in fact, that it was mistaken for a chunk of tomato in a recent pot of soup. That redness comes from being saturated with lycopene, the cousin to beta-carotene that gives tomatoes their redder hues. Color aside, the Atomic Red carrot is a large and long root ( over a foot long in some cases) that when raw, is a bit heavy, and sometimes woody on the chew. But when cooked, this true root melts into a butter soft, nutty sweet vegetable that elevates the carrot from simple side to vivid main.
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Alex Weiser of Weiser Family Farms has a habit of going his own way, naming and renaming roots and tubers to better showcase their qualities. He did so with the purple and gold Laker Baker (it was the zebra potato a few years ago) and isn't completely sold on this red carrot's moniker. "It's probably going to end up with a rock name," Weiser said recently. "Something that's a better descriptive. It's a great cooking carrot that actually gets better with heat and keeps its shape. But yes, for now, it's atomic."
As Weiser suggests, cook it. Steaming is fine, but perhaps a bit too gentle. Where it shines is in a braise or stew. Whatever the cut, it'll keep its shape while becoming uniformly tender and vibrantly red. Even the larger and woodier specimens will transform. It's fine raw, too. There are just better carrots out there for raw eating that won't overwork your jaw, like the other oddly named and complex Cosmic Purple, or the sweet and bulbous Thumbelinas.