August 28, 2011

Chef Kevin Adey's Carrot-Top Pesto


Chef Kevin Adey's carrot salad dressed with carrot-top pesto

Not too long ago, I wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal on resourceful New York-area chefs who practice “top-to-tail” vegetable cooking. They love their farmer’s market produce, in other words, and don’t want to waste a scrap of it.

My inspiration for the article was chef Kevin Adey of the Bushwick restaurant Northeast Kingdom. Farmer Ben Flanner of Brooklyn Grange, the rooftop organic farm in Long Island City, Queens, tipped me off to Adey’s carrot top pesto, an ingenious way to use every part of Brooklyn Grange’s lovely specimens. So I hopped on the L train and took the trip to Bushwick, where Adey gave me a demo of his dish.

The chef had just received a sack full of carrots from Brooklyn Grange in the wee hours of that morning, so they were super fresh. Because the rooftop placement of Brooklyn Grange means a fairly shallow soil bed, its carrots, while packed with flavor, are petite, each no more than five inches or so in length. 

Pesto building blocks
 The first thing I noticed was how much salt Adey tossed into the stockpot full of boil water for blanching the carrots. Aggressive salting is one of the traits that separates the home from the restaurant cook, Adey acknowledged as he tossed in carrots that ranged in color from golden to orange to persimmon colored into the pot. “You don’t want to cook them, just to set the flavor,” he explained.

Adey and his raw ingredients
 Next, he blanched the carrot tops in the same pot, then shocked them in cold water to set their bright green color and squeezed the water out. (Freshness is key in using carrot tops; other chefs told me they don’t use them because they tend to turn bitter fairly quickly.) Adey loves using cashews instead of pine nuts or walnuts in his pesto, he said, for their great flavor and mouth feel.

Processing....
 Adey then piled all the ingredients in his Robot Coupe and whizzed them. He uses basil as a foil to the slightly more bitter carrot tops, and notes that a pesto “has to have chunk.” That means don’t overdo the olive oil, so that instead of coating pasta or vegetables like gluey paste, your pesto will coat them, jewel like. 

Note chunkiness of pesto!

Finally, it was just a matter of quickly plating the gorgeous carrots and some greens, also from Brooklyn Grange, and drizzling them with the thinned-out pesto. The result was an explosion of flavor and crispiness, with the fieriness of the garlic and the unctuousness of the olive oil offset by the sweet and bitter accents of the basil and carrot tops and the umami of the grated Parmesan.


Carrot Top Pesto

2 ounces roasted cashews
1-1/2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
1 ounce garlic cloves
2-1/2 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
3 ounces clean carrot tops (blanched and shocked)
3 ounces basil leaves
salt
fresh black pepper

In bowl of a food processor, place the cashews, garlic, carrot tops, and basil. Start to process, and drizzle in oil, continuing to process until desired texture is reached. Stir in Parmesan, and season generously with pepper and salt to taste.

To use as a dressing for a blanched green market carrot salad, thin pesto with olive oil and drizzle over salad. Or use to dress cooked pasta.

Yield: 1 pint, enough for 8 people