Tearing off and discarding (or composting) the greens on a bunch of carrots is practically a reflex for most of us. It was for me until recently, when I discovered that root vegetables are more than edible – they are downright delicious and also nutritious.
With an intense root-like flavor and aroma, root vegetables possess the pleasant earthy bitterness common to leafy greens, but with a feathery texture that feels like a herb. From a nutritional point of view, they are rich in vitamin A, potassium and health-protecting plant compounds. To store them, remove them from the carrots and store them separately, in a bag in the refrigerator, like other vegetables. If you hold them, the leaves will draw moisture and nutrients from the root and the roots themselves will not last as long. (That’s one of the reasons why they’re often removed at the grocery store.)
You can use root vegetables such as parsley or cilantro, sprinkle them on a dish as a garnish, or toss them in salads or salsas; or you can cook them as you would beet greens or kale, sauteed with garlic and oil and a splash of vinegar.
For this recipe, I turned a whole head of carrot tops into a delicious lemony pesto, using the same basic ingredients as a classic basil pesto, and using fresh basil leaves to add a layer of sweet, floral essence to bring out the earthy flavor of the root vegetables.
Use it like any pesto, to mix into pasta, spread on sandwiches or toast, or sprinkle over cooked potatoes, eggs, chicken breast and more. It’s a sauce that makes the most of an excellent ingredient that has always been within reach, waiting to be discovered rather than thrown away.
6 to 8 servings; about 1¼ cups
Storage advice: Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
⅓ cup pine nuts
2 small garlic cloves, peeled
4 cups lightly packed, well washed and dried root vegetables (from 1 bunch 1 pound carrots)
1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, plus more if needed (see NOTE)
⅓ cup (1 ounce) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon of water
½ teaspoon fine salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, toast the pine nuts, shaking the pan frequently, until fragrant and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Place on a plate and let cool slightly.
Process the pine nuts and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the carrot tops, basil, cheese, lemon juice, water, salt and pepper and process until finely chopped. With the machine running, slowly pour the oil in a steady stream through the feed tube and process until well mixed.
NOTE: If your bunch of carrots yields less than 4 cups of greens, add as much basil as you need to get a total of 5 cups of greens.
From cookbook author and registered nutritionist Ellie Krieger.