We like to pride ourselves on using up every bit of a plant, gobbling up everything to young radish leaves, to pickled Swiss chard stems (a tip we learned from Michael Anthony at Gramercy Tavern) to the fresh roots of green garlic (that one was from Shea Gallante, of Ciano). But until we went with NY1 to The Bronx to visit Toby Adams, the manager of the 1.5-acre Ruth Rae Howell Family Garden at the New York Botanical Garden, we didn’t know that you could actually eat the tops of carrots.
“Take a bite,” he said, and we did: The flavor was sharp and green, slightly bitter in a good way, a little anisey like fennel, but also a little bit sweet. Good lord, we thought, what had we been doing all our lives letting these go to waste? In truth: We were totally embarassed.
So maybe we could be forgiven for throwing out what could easily be in salad, since we usually buy our roots and tubers from the Greenmarket. There the tops are typically scraggly by the time we get them home–unlike the brilliant greenery grown above by Adams, who runs the mini-farm and a variety of programs that show kids from ages three to 12 how to grow vegetables, herbs and edible plants. Part of those programs include cooking demos, including one by Alicia Walter, the so-called “Vegetable Butcher” at Eataly.
Walter had made a carrot top pesto a few days before we arrived, and Adams showed us how to do it too: He combined two big handfuls of cleaned carrot tops, thick or woody stems removed, about 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds (Walters preferred those to pine nuts or walnuts, since kids can have allergies, but those would also work well) and 1/4 cup of olive oil. You puree the whole mess in the Cuisinart, and then add salt to taste.
The result was maybe a little too bracing to top pasta by its lonesome, but would be excellent on crostini or rusks, on roasted corn or or squash, on caramelized sweet onions or rich and fatty seared steaks. Though if you follow Walter and Adams’ advice, you’d use it as a dip for the carrots they originally came from.