Carrot Top Pesto [and other Tips for Root-Greens]
Somehow, I nearly made it to 38 years of age without considering carrot greens. Not as food, necessarily - though I've got a great pesto recipe for you later - but as signs of freshness, markers of vibrance.
Because here's the thing that (somehow) hadn't crossed my mind:
greens give away a vegetable's age.
Perky, with depth of colour? It's probably better for you, veggie-speaking - most vegetables begin to degrade in quality after after picking, not only losing their attractiveness and sweetness over time, but their levels of antioxidants, too.
Many of the roots you buy in bunches - carrots, beets, radishes, etc - can be stored for a long while before they're used, and when you're choosing them at the supermarket, it's impossible to know how fresh they actually are. Unless you go for the ones with the bright, dark leaves. As they age, leaves wilt, fade, and spot - so appealing leaves on the tops of carrots are sign those carrots haven't been out of the ground too long. And that's a good thing.
Just in case I haven't got you convinced - because we all know that the bunches of carrots with greens on them are more expensive than the bagged, topless ones - you can in most cases also use those greens. Remember, variety is one of the most important parts of healthy eating. Eating the same greens every single day may be good for you, but eating different greens every single day is EVEN BETTER.
My favourite green-tops? Carrots, beets, turnips, kohlrabi, broccoli and radishes.
Here's how to get the most out of them.
Here's how to get the most out of them.
- When buying, choose organic bunches with deeply coloured, un-wilty leaves.
- Always plan to eat your green-tops the same day you buy them. They might be ok the next day, but for best flavour and nutrition, don't leave them much longer than that.
- When you get the bunch home, cut the green-tops off the roots and store them separately (or feed unwanted leaves to your worms or chickens or compost, if you're not using them). The greens will continue to respirate in your fridge, so leaving them attached for too long can dry out the roots prematurely.
- Small or baby broccoli, beet or kohlrabi leaves are great in salads - just treat them as you would lettuce.
- Larger beet, radish, kohlrabi, broccoli or turnip leaves taste more like spinach, and can be cooked like this or this or this.
- Carrot tops have a slight parsley flavour to them, so you can mix them into salads (in small doses) or - my favourite - make pesto!
Sooooo .... maybe you've heard you can't eat these greens - and, yes, there are a couple of caveats here. All the greens I've listed above are totally edible, as long as you eat them in moderation. Most greens (even spinach!) contain natural compounds that aren't good for us in high doses, like oxalate or alkaloids. So mix it all up! Don't eat huge amounts of the same thing day after day.
Also, please don't eat parsnip tops (they contain a sap that burns skin), or pick wild green-tops - carrots have many wild cousins that are highly toxic. At least if you're buying carrots (with tops) at the farmers' market or grocery, you can be assured they're actually carrots!
Alright, I think it's time to make some pesto. Don't you?
Before we do, I just want to say thanks to all you dear friends who sent me birthday wishes this week. I love hearing from all of you out there across the world! And for the record, I am completely happy to be 38. Every birthday's like a badge of survival :)Amanda xx
PS. My carrot-top epiphany came about from reading this book - I can't recommend it highly enough! I'm certain I'll be posting more about it in the near future.
Carrot Top Pesto
makes ~2/3 cup
adapted from Diane Morgan's recipe here
I made this last Friday as a pizza topping - though next time, I'm using Kelsey's on-the-grill dough or this old favourite or even pita breads instead of the recipe off the packet of yeast (which came out more like foccacia). The pesto derives from this one, with one important difference - I almost never have pine nuts at home, so I almost always use cashews instead. I made this in the blender and happily scooped it out with a spoon straight onto the flattened dough. Or into my mouth. It was that good.
5-10 min prep
1 cup organic carrot leaves, plucked off the stems
6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/4 tsp sea salt
3 Tbs roasted cashews
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
*If you have the time, always leave resist cooking your garlic for 10 minutes after you press or mince it - this simple step markedly increases its absorbable nutrition. (And if you think that little tidbit is cool, you definitely have to read this book)
Blend and eat! You can use this pesto like you would a "normal" basil pesto - it makes a great sandwich topping or dip for veggies, too. Store leftovers in an airtight jar in the fridge for a few days, or freeze as small cubes (use your ice cube tray for this) and store in the freezer in an airtight jar or bag.
I love these kinds of recipes, where you're using stuff you would normally throw out. The main cost here is the olive oil and cashews - my batch of organic carrot-top pesto came in at around $4.