6.7.16 Root to Leaf

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photos by gluttonforlife

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.

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tender roots

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.

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colorful aromatics

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.

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bold pickles

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!

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leafy greens

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.)

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pretty pesto

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.

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carrot crostini

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.


Pickled Carrots

makes about 1 quart
  • — 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.

Download recipe  Download Recipe

Carrot Top Pesto 2.0

makes about 1 1/3 cups
  • — 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.

Download recipe  Download Recipe


Viva la root to stem eating! Oh how I miss my food processor, I will have to steep the leaves for tea until I can get my hands on another food processor to try this delicious looking pesto. Happy feasting!
thefolia on June 7, 2016 at 3:26 pm —
You really can do it with a knife and some elbow grease! xo
laura on June 7, 2016 at 10:47 pm —
You remind me I need to order pumpkin seeds......this whole recipe could be made with radishes and radish greens I am thinking. No baby carrots in Orange County yet!
Diane Lindsay on June 8, 2016 at 3:47 pm —
Depending on the radish, it might turn out quite spicy! And radishes are a bit more watery, so compensate for that. Let me know how it is...
laura on June 8, 2016 at 3:59 pm —
That is a brilliant use for carrot tops! I have been pulling carrots for weeks and feeding their leaves to my pigs. Will be making this today! Probably could use in a chimichurri as well.
paddockgoddess on June 11, 2016 at 6:50 pm —
I just made this (with a swap of cashews b/c that's what I had on hand) and it's so good! Thanks!
Susan on July 9, 2016 at 7:14 pm —
What a coincidence: I just pickled carrots last night! I used a hefty dollop of red chile flakes (note to self: when boiling bring with hot chile flakes, open a window and turn on a fan) with some other aromatics but I like your mixture here. Will be trying this one next! Can't wait to try this pesto on my sourdough. Thanks for the recipe!
Maurizio on July 14, 2016 at 11:57 am —
Hope you enjoyed it, Maurizio! Your blog is beautiful, by the way. I will return when I'm ready to bake my next loaf. xo
laura on July 17, 2016 at 1:43 pm —