Cookbook author Diane Morgan first got to thinking about root vegetables after two encounters at her local farmers market in Portland, Ore. She was burdened down with celery root, Morgan says, when a woman stopped her to ask what she was holding and what she planned to do with it.
"It's amazing," Morgan replied. "You can eat it raw, you can eat it cooked, you can turn it into a fabulous soup."
At another stall, Morgan came across burdock root for the first time — and started thinking seriously about root vegetables. She went searching for a cookbook but couldn't find what she wanted: an encyclopedic book on roots with lots of recipes for each.
So Morgan decided to write that book herself. The result, Roots: The Definitive Compendium, covers produce aisle oddities such as jicama, yuca and parsley root. But it also hits on the usual suspects: sweet potatoes, radishes and carrots.
When it comes to carrots, Morgan urges cooks not to toss the green parts. "Carrots have these beautiful, leafy tops and we just tend to lop them off," she says. So she started experimenting, and hit upon a carrot-top pesto which she shared for All Things Considered's Found Recipe series.
"I want people to use them, and turning them into ... pesto is magical."
Recipe: Carrot Top Pesto
I almost always buy fresh carrots with their feathery green tops attached. In the past, I would invariably cut the tops off and send them to the compost bin. Honestly, it never occurred to me that they were edible. But the tops of other root vegetables are edible, so why wouldn't carrot tops be edible, too? One day I blanched the leaves, pureed them with a little olive oil and then used the puree as a gorgeous green accent sauce for fish, much in the same way I use basil oil. My next idea was to make pesto, trading out the basil for carrot tops, which proved an amazing alternative.
I serve this as a dip with crudites and often add a dollop on top of bruschetta that has been smeared with fresh goat cheese. It's also perfect simply tossed with pasta.
Makes about 2/3 cup
1 cup lightly packed carrot leaves (stems removed)
6 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted (see below)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
To Toast The Nuts
Toasting pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews and pumpkin seeds brings out their flavor. Spread the nuts or seeds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, place in a preheated 350-degree oven and toast until fragrant and lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the nut or seed. Alternatively, nuts and seeds can be browned in a microwave. Spread in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high power, stopping to stir once or twice, until fragrant and lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Watch them closely so they don't burn.
To Make the Pesto
In a food processor, combine the carrot leaves, oil, garlic, and salt and process until finely minced. Add the pine nuts and pulse until finely chopped. Add the Parmesan and pulse just until combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
Recipe reprinted from Roots: The Definitive Compendium with More Than 225 Recipes by Diane Morgan. Copyright 2012 by Diane Morgan. Reprinted with permission of Chronicle Books.