I love it when a dish just makes sense somehow. Feels more efficient. This can often be achieved by using two parts of the same plant, or animal, if in unsuspecting ways. Hey, if eating meat from head to tail is all the rage, then how about vegetables from shoot to root? Stalk to flower? Waste not, want not, and why not cook ‘em both together? That’s what I thought when I bought a bunch of these lovely tri-colored carrots. Though prepared this way, you might not even guess it was all the same plant.
I was in Putnam County, New York last week, on the border of Vermont, and hit up some farmers’ markets in the area. It seemed to be spring still up north a little way’s: sugarsnap peas and leafy greens littered the stalls, while the former have come and gone in these parts and peaches and corn have been here for weeks. But at one table, I spotted this bunch of colorful carrots, from a farm that clearly took pride in their heirloom array. I left with some purple broccoli and an oversized, off-white pattypan squash along the way, as I snagged the last bunch of their carrots for the day.
Most of the carrots were about the width of a Sharpie pen, with long, sinewy tapers. I thought they’d be great for slitting in half lengthwise and grilling. But they also came with a full head of feathery, frond-like greens. Carrot greens may not be the most desirable leafy green to eat, but they’re a real superfood, dense with Vitamin A just like its roots as well as tons of K and C. There was simply too much good stuff to just lose.
carrot greens are separated and broken down to a simple pesto with garlic and olive oil
I’ve made “pesto” with fresh kale before, and other unlikely leafy greens. So the deep-green carrot tops didn’t seem too much of a stretch. Because these leaves are fairly tough and stringy, I blanched them first in salted water, and tried to remove any long pieces of stem. Even though they boiled for about a minute, so much bright green seeped into the water, a sign of their potency. I also made the most bare-boned version of pesto, with just salt, pepper, olive oil and a raw clove of garlic — no nuts and no grated cheese this time (although those ingredients are listed as optional below). Carrot greens have an exceptionally sweet, grassy taste, and it certainly comes out in this pesto. When slathered on something else, you might assume it’s just basil pesto at first bite, but the unique flavor will creep up on you pretty soon.
I like leaving a little stub of the (edible) stem on the carrot while snipping the rest off. These can be used as a handle while you crunch away at the rest of the root, even more convenient when there’s a sauce to dip it in like this pesto. That’s how it was handled when I served them to a friend, though I ended up eating his leftover stubs (maybe just for that efficiency, waste-not logic).
If you can still find really fresh carrots at this time, here’s a real fun way to cook them. Oh, and the pesto can be used for hoards of other dishes once the carrots are gone, too. I made about a pint in total from the greens of just one bunch.
Grilled Carrots with Carrot Greens Pesto
(makes 4-6 appetizer-sized servings)
1 bunch carrots (as fresh as you can find, and preferably thin)
greens from that bunch of carrots
1 large clove garlic
about 1/2 cup and 1-2 tablespoons good extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
optional, for the pesto: nuts such as pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, almonds, etc., and parmiggiano-reggiano
Snip the carrots from the greens leaving about 1/2-1 inch of the stem on the root. Set carrots aside. Remove any long stems and wilted leaves from the leafy greens. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and boil the greens for about 1 minute. Drain well for at least 5 minutes. Coarsely chop the garlic clove and the greens, and transfer to a food processor as well as salt, pepper, the 1/2 cup of olive oil and optional pesto ingredients. Pulse for a few seconds, stopping to scrape down mixture with a spatula as needed, until well blended. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as desired.
Cut carrots lengthwise so that they’re about equal in size and thickness (you may want to halve skinnier carrots lengthwise, or quarter them). Drizzle with olive oil just to coat and season with salt and pepper. Get a grill hot (note: or substitute heating a cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan) and place carrots cut side-down. Let cook for 1-2 minutes, or until charred marks form on the underside, and flip. Cook another 2-3 minutes, turning occasionally, until each side is slightly charred and remove from heat. Serve with the pesto.
(for 4-6 appetizer-sized servings)
1 bunch carrots: $3.00
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons olive oil: $1.00
1 clove garlic, salt, pepper: $0.10
Three brownie points: We know that carrots are good for eyesight from all their Vitamin A, but they’re also very high in fiber, and low in calories. The latter was especially surprising given how sweet they taste, and certainly become once caramelized a little to bring out their sugars (it smelled a lot like roasting marshmallows while grilling them). The greens have Vitamin K which is lacking in the roots. Eat it all up, I say, and since it’s so flavor-packed, no need to go heavy on the accoutrements.
Eight maple leaves: The great thing about getting out of the city during the summer is getting to visit the places that make a lot of the food that’s brought to it. I had the pleasure of passing through farms where so much produce for NYC consumption is grown, and buying it right there. Even the garlic, used in this pesto, was from the same farm. When in Rome…