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.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Our found recipe series has had some meat to it. We've heard about cooking beef hearts and putting bacon into milkshakes, but today we want to go to the garden, the winter garden, with a found recipe that's right for a rabbit.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It's for carrot-top pesto. That's right, carrot-top pesto. And what exactly would one do with carrot-top pesto?
DIANE MORGAN: It's amazing. I've used it as a topping for pasta. I've mixed it with goat cheese and put it as a filling for raviolis. I've used it as a dip.
BLOCK: So many options from Diane Morgan for those frilly greens you'd usually toss aside. Her recipe for carrot-top pesto comes from her book, "Roots: The Definitive Compendium." She has ideas for produce-aisle oddities like Jerusalem artichokes.
MORGAN: Pickle it.
CORNISH: And Burdock root.
MORGAN: Shred it.
CORNISH: All tasty recipes for those root vegetables you might not normally put in your shopping cart. But let's get back to that carrot-top pesto.
MORGAN: Carrots, when we buy them at the farmer's market or we get them in the CSA box or the grocery store, they have these beautiful leafy tops and we just tend to lop them off. I really want people to use them. And turning it into this pesto is magical. I went online and I discovered this recipe and it used walnuts. And so, I blended it all up and the carrot tops have this wonderful herbaceous flavor and I felt the walnuts were overpowering it.
So I scrapped that and decided to try it with pine nuts and the flavors all worked together and you just got this beautiful pesto, this lovely emerald green paste. It has this earthy flavor that really comes through with the flavor of the pine nuts and the parmesan and just that hint of garlic. I just sometimes will serve it with some softened goat cheese and crustini and I actually don't tell people what it is at first.
BLOCK: That's Diane Morgan, the author of "Roots: The Definitive Compendium." And you can get her recipe for carrot-top pesto on the ALL THINGS CONSIDERED page at NPR.org.
CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.