6.7.16 Root to Leaf
I've just come in from the garden. The weather is so glorious, sparkling fresh after Sunday's long, steady downpour. Hummingbirds zipped around me as I weeded the beds. Chipmunks chased each other around the rocky borders. The peony bushes are weighed down with tight buds about to burst open. Late-blooming lilacs perfume the silky air. June is busting out all over! Our farmers market is already offering us many delights: radishes galore, feathery fronds of tarragon, hardy stalks of green garlic, tart sorrel leaves and sweet little carrots with bushy greens still attached. From my own garden, the lovage, rhubarb and mint are faithful first responders, and tender greens—mustard, spinach, kale, lettuce—are ready for picking. I wake early to the complex melodies and syncopations of what sounds like a thousand birds and am filled with energy for the day ahead. Which is good because these days are coming at me fast and furious, requiring all my focus and creativity and determination.
If you're shopping at a farmers market, you're more likely to come across the small, tender carrots farmers pull when they're thinning their crops. Because they abhor waste, the bushy yet delicate greens will probably still be attached. (Don't toss those! They'll come in handy later.) I was unable to resist buying two bunches. Since most of the vivid orange roots were about the size of my pinky, I thought they would make excellent pickles. If yours are bigger, you can just slice them in half the long way.
I've been busy pickling ramps—from an enormous patch I discovered this year—so I used a variation on the brine I made for those. Carrots can handle some assertive spicing. This recipe calls for coriander, fennel and mustard seeds, plus turmeric, garlic, bay leaf, pink peppercorns and red chile flakes in a sweet-salty apple cider vinegar base.
I'm very into small batch preserving, where you put up just enough to enjoy for one or two meals or some extended snacking. It's easy, it's quick, it's not a big commitment. Come on, you can do it, too!
Now, for the greens. The conversation around the ancient practice of root-to-leaf eating has brought out new ideas for these. I have a friend who steeps fresh carrot tops in hot water to make "carrot tea," which is excellent for detoxifying and strengthening the kidneys. Use them instead of parsley in a version of tabbouleh or puree them into a soup. (Find additional recipes here.)
My favorite use for carrot tops is pesto. Looking back through my archives, I saw that right around this time three years ago I also posted a recipe for one. I was happy to note that it doesn't differ greatly from the one I'm sharing with you today, which is not surprising given the seasonal nature of my cooking. A friend who is pitching a cookbook recently told me that publishers "aren't really into the seasonal thing any more." The idea that eating seasonally is a trend whose time has passed really irks me. Beyond being in tune with the rhythm of the natural world, it's primarily about supporting local agriculture. If you're buying from farmers near you, you're cooking seasonally—not to mention fresher and more sustainably.
The pesto comes together in a flash. It's just the greens, toasted pumpkin seeds, nutritional yeast, lemon juice and zest, red chile flakes, pecorino and some good olive oil. A food processor makes short work of this, though you could chop it by hand. A mezzaluna would be ideal. Pestos are very flexible, so you can always use different nuts, omit the cheese if you like and adjust the spices. What you want is an unctuous but slightly loose consistency and a good balance of green, acid, salt and fat.
I can't get enough of this delicious bite: bread glossed with olive oil and toasted in the oven + a slick of vivid green carrot top pesto + a briny, spiced pickled carrot. A few of these is a working lunch. Paired with an aperitif, it's the precursor to a languid evening in the screened-in porch. Either way, it's a lot of carrot and very little stick.
- — 2 bunches baby carrots
- — 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- — 3/4 cup sugar
- — 1 tablespoon sea salt
- — 3/4 cup water
- — 2 bay leaves
- — 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- — 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- — 1/2 teaspoon pink peppercorns
- — 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- — 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- — 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
- — 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
Cut greens from baby carrots and set aside. Wash and trim carrots, leaving a tiny bit of stem if you like. Wash a quart jar in hot, soapy water and rinse well. Arrange carrots in the jar, root ends down.
In a medium saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, salt and water and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve sugar and salt, then remove from heat. Stir in bay leaves, garlic and spices.
Pour hot brine over carrots and seal jar. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.
Carrot Top Pesto 2.0
- — 3 packed cups carrot tops
- — 1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
- — 1/2 tablespoon lemon zest
- — 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- — 1/2 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- — 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
- — 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- — 1/3 cup grated pecorino
- — 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In the bowl of a food processor, combine carrot tops, pumpkin seeds, lemon zest and juice, nutritional yeast, chile and salt and process until fairly smooth.
Scrape down the sides and add the cheese, pulsing to incorporate.
With the machine running, stream in the olive oil until you achieve desired texture. The pesto should be thick but not too stiff.
Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt or lemon juice as needed.