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So, I’m watching one of my favorite TV shows and the main character opts to pass on the donuts in the meeting room and instead shares that she’ll “just have some baby carrots.”

Her next comment: “What the heck is a baby carrot, anyway?”

Good question. Here is what I discovered.

A true baby carrot is a carrot harvested at a smaller size before reaching maturity. A baby-cut carrot is a small piece cut from a larger carrot; baby-cut carrots are often marketed as baby carrots, leading to potential confusion and overcharging for what is believed to be a baby carrot.

The immature roots of the carrot plant are sometimes harvested as the result of crop thinning, but are also grown to this size as a specialty crop. Some cultivars are now bred to be used only at the baby stage. One is the Amsterdam. Greens are left attached to prove that these are true baby carrots and not baby-cut carrots. There are also the Thumbelina and Paris Market baby carrots, which are actually round. These cultivars are more expensive than standard carrots.

Baby carrots are more tender than fully developed carrots.

Taking fully grown carrots and cutting them to a smaller size began in the 1980s when supermarkets expected carrots to be of a specific size, shape and color. Those not making the cut (pun intended) were sold for juice, can processing or animal feed. The concept of “baby-cut” carrots decreased literally ton’s of food waste. To make baby-cuts, large carrots are machine cut into 2-inch sections, then abraded (scraped) down to size, their ends rounded by the same process.

As consumers become more educated on truth in food labeling, more and more companies are moving towards using the appropriate “baby-cut” on their packaging. We really don’t want to pay baby carrot prices for baby-cut carrots.

One hint — you won’t find true baby carrots packaged in sealed plastic bags. They will be more likely found individually in the produce sections of finer markets.

Baby-cuts are part of a distinct onrush in the carrot’s popularity in the United States. Easy for snacking, school lunch bags and veggies platters. Time savers, as well.

If you look closely at baby-cuts, you may see a whitish hue sometimes on the surface of the carrot. This occurs because the entire surface area has been cut and they are prone to dehydration. One way to minimize the appearance is to store the carrots at a low temperature and high humidity setting in your refrigerator crisper. This dehydration issue can make the baby-cuts a little tougher. Storing them in a container of water in the refrigerator also helps avoid further dehydration on the short term.

A few carrot fun facts. Carrots were originally used for medicinal purposes for a variety of ailments. Carrots trace back approximately 5,000 years, according to historical documents and ancient art work. This veggie is a terrific source of Vitamin A and beta-carotene. The deeper the orange color of a carrot, the more beta-carotene. Low in calorie and high in fiber. Carrots are not always orange, however, with some cultivars presenting as purple, red, yellow or even white.

Have a carrot and mangia bene.

Tuscan Roasted Carrots

Serves 4—6.

2 pounds baby carrots (or sliced carrots if baby carrots are not available)

4-5 large garlic cloves, peeled and left whole

1 1/2 tsp. sea salt

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (I’d use Grove 45)

2 whole lemons—slice each into 4 sections

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar (the better the quality of the balsamic, the better the results—I only use authentic)

Quick and easy recipe. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss carrots with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.

Spread carrots over a metal sheet pan. Place lemon sections on top.

Roast 20 minutes, turn carrots over and rotate sheet pan and roast an additional 20—25 minutes until tender.

If you are using actual baby carrots, baking time will be about half.

Remove carrots from oven and pour balsamic vinegar evenly over carrots. Return to oven and heat until balsamic evaporates and begins to caramelize. This step takes about 5 minutes.

Be sure to deglaze the sheet pan with a spatula so that these flavorful bits of balsamic are served along with the carrots.

Parmesan Carrots

Serves 6.

1 lb. carrots, cut into chunks

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

1 medium yellow or white onion, coarsely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, cover carrots with cold water. Bring water to boil over a high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until just tender. Approximately 15 minutes. Drain liquid.

Melt butter in a large skillet. Stir in carrots and onions and onions. Cook 5 minutes.

Sprinkle Parmesan on top. Wait 1 minute and then stir into the carrot and onion mixture, cooking and stirring for 2 more minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Roasted Carrots with Carrot Pesto

Serves 8.

3 lbs. small carrots with stems, any color

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (I’d use Grove 45)

Sea salt, freshly ground pepper

1 clove fresh garlic

3 Tbs. skinless almonds

½ cup (packed) fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim carrot tops, leaving some stem attached. Measure out 2 cups carrot tops and set aside. Keep any remaining carrot tops for another use.

In a large bowl, toss carrots and 2 Tbsp. oil. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. Salt and pepper to taste. Roast, tossing occasionally, until carrots are golden brown and tender. About 30 minutes. Allow to cool.

In a food processor, pulse garlic and nuts until you have a coarse paste. Add basil, Parmesan, and reserved carrot tops. Process until you have a coarse puree. Add 1/2 cup olive oil and pulse until combined. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot carrots evenly drizzled with pesto.

NOTE: Pesto can be made a day ahead. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pesto to keep from discoloring. Chill.

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Diane De Filipi lives in the Napa Valley and leads cooking tours to Italy and Burgundy, France. Visit letsgocookitalian.com or letsgocookleboncuisine.com for more information.

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