We throw an enormous percentage of food away, not only wasting the food we know about, but also wholesome things we don’t connect with the farm-to-table sequence.
Sometimes, when I’m at my neighborhood farmers market pulling beet greens and carrot tops out of the discard bins, someone will ask me what I’m doing with them. Or they’ll ask the nearby farmer whether the tops of the various vegetables they’re buying are edible.
Fresh greens are gorgeous, fragrant, healthful and enormously flavorful; they’re also endlessly useful in cooking. Why we value some more than others is pretty arbitrary.
Until relatively recently, the green tops of various vegetables were tossed into soups or stocks only by thrifty cooks, but they’ve now found their way into mainstream kitchens and onto restaurant menus, often placed there by chefs who want to draw attention to the issue of food waste or who apply nose-to-tail principles to plants.
“Food waste is partly a value judgment about what is desirable and what is not,” Danish chef Mads Refslund, a founder of the Copenhagen restaurant Noma, writes in his recent cookbook, “Scraps, Wilt + Weeds.”
Refslund includes some pretty desirable dishes in his book: daikon pea dumplings, spruce sugar cookies and a pesto made with carrot tops — they taste rather like bitter frisee, with a hint of, you guessed it, carrot — that I like to serve with the carrots that come with those tops, roasted with olive oil and salt.
Portland, Ore.-based Jenn Louis devotes an entire chapter to these forgotten bits in her new book, “The Book of Greens.”
“As a rule,” Louis writes, “don’t overlook anything green on a root, fruit or vegetable.” Among her highly desirable dishes: pasta with tomato leaves and sherbet made from celery leaves.
Treat these greens as you would parsley or other conventional herbs. Blend them into pesto, salsa verde, chimichurri and other sauces and salsas. Even simpler: Toss them directly into salads and maybe whisk some of them into a vinaigrette.
Hardier greens, such as those atop beets, turnips and radishes, can be wilted and added to soup or pasta or folded into tacos.
Combining the greens with the vegetables attached to them is happily symmetrical.
So load goat cheese quesadillas with both roasted beets and sauteed beet greens. Thinly sliced radishes make great sandwiches with smoked salmon on slabs of thick, rustic bread. Turn the radish tops, which have a peppery tang reminiscent of arugula, into a vibrant salsa verde. Drizzle the salsa over your toast or stir into creme fraiche (or yogurt or cream cheese) to brighten the flavor and the color.
The leafy tops of fennel have an anise-y flavor, not unlike the dill they resemble, and are terrific in salads and with salmon and cucumber. Celeriac leaves look and taste like a more hardcore version of celery and thus work well in potato salads and soups.
If you’re unfamiliar with a certain green, taste it and consider how you might use it. You could also strike up a conversation at the farmers market — with a farmer or any customer digging through those piles of carrot tops and radish greens.
ROASTED CARROTS WITH CARROT-TOP PESTO
- 2 bunches small carrots (about 12)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- >> Pesto
- 1 cup packed chopped carrot tops
- 1/2 cup packed parsley leaves
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
- Grated zest of a lemon
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Trim greens from carrots, leaving a half-inch or so stem on top of each. Reserve tops for pesto.
Spread carrots on a rimmed baking sheet, coat with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and golden, 30 to 40 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes or so for even coloring.
To make pesto: Combine ingredients in a food processor; pulse until coarsely ground. Makes about 1 cup.
Serve roasted carrots topped with pesto. Serves 2 to 4.
BEET GREEN, ROASTED BEETS AND GOAT CHEESE QUESADILLAS
- 2 bunches small beets with their greens attached (about 12)
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large sprig rosemary
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 8 (6-inch) corn tortillas
- 11 ounces soft goat cheese, or to taste
- Hot sauce, for serving
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove greens from beets. Coarsely chop greens and set aside .
Place beets on double layer of foil and drizzle with 3 tablespoons oil. Sprinkle with salt and add rosemary. Seal foil around beets, making a pouch, place on a baking sheet and bake until beets are tender, about an hour (a knife should pierce the beets easily). Set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel and thinly slice.
Heat a skillet over medium-high; add 2 tablespoons oil. Stir in garlic, cooking a minute or so until it begins to color, then add chopped greens. Cook, stirring frequently, until greens are wilted and stems are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-high until hot and coat with last tablespoon olive oil. Place 1-2 tortillas in pan and top with goat cheese, beet greens and sliced beets. Top with more tortillas, flattening each to spread filling evenly.
Cook quesadillas until cheese is melted and tortillas are golden, carefully flipping so they cook evenly. Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling. Halve quesadillas and serve while warm, with hot sauce on the side. Serves 4.
RADISH AND SALMON WITH RADISH SALSA TOASTS
- 4 ounces creme fraiche or sour cream
- 4 slices whole wheat or country white bread, toasted
- 4 ounces smoked salmon, more if desired
- 1 cup thinly sliced radishes
- >> Salsa:
- 2 cups radish greens, from about 2 bunches, chopped
- 1 cup cilantro
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves
- Salt, to taste
- Zest and juice from 1 lemon
- Zest and juice from 1 orange
To make salsa: Combine ingredients in food processor or blender. Process or blend until smooth. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.
Spread creme fraiche over toast; top with smoked salmon and radish slices. Drizzle with salsa. Serves 4.
Nutritional information unavailable.