Summer harvests are now in full swing, meaning tender young veg such as beetroot and carrots can be picked and bundled into bunches. More than just a convenient way to gather together veg with minimal packaging, the leaves themselves can be used in a variety of tasty dishes.
Packed with vitamins and minerals, veg tops are nourishing foods that deserve a better destination than the food recycling caddy. Any leaves on your root veg are best used as soon as possible – removing them will also prevent them sucking up moisture from the roots.
Bunched onions and carrots will usually have the tops left on, however beetroot may be trimmed back from time to time if the leaves can struggle a little due to weather conditions, weeds or insect damage. If nothing wants to eat them first and the conditions are good, you should find them in veg boxes over the summer. Here are some suggestions from Riverford chefs to help you make the most of your greens.
If the leafy fronds on your carrots arrive with some vigour and vim in them, they can be washed and put to use. The simplest application is to chop and add as a garnish to whatever dish you conjure from the roots. You can get more involved and turn it into a vibrant green pesto, although the slightly bitter taste is best tempered with a little basil or parsley. If you aren’t using them straight away, carrot tops can be kept fresh in a glass of water, like cut flowers.
Cut and wash your bunched beetroot leaves straight away, discarding any that are yellowing. The leaves wilt and cook just like spinach and chard, so you can simply tear or slice into ribbons or leave them whole if small. Cook them quickly in a hot pan with a dash of heated oil or butter and the water still clinging to them. Keep them moving in the pan; they should wilt within moments. Season to taste. If you like, add some chopped garlic (and chilli or anchovy depending on your tastes) to the hot fat and fry it for a couple of minutes before adding the tops. A dash of lemon juice at the very end is a great lift but don’t be tempted to add it earlier or the acid will turn the green leaves brown.
The new season’s small, bunched green onions are great for cooking or chopping finely and eating raw in salads. Picked while the necks are still green, they’re gentler than regular onions, and you can eat the whole thing. Trim away the root tip and remove the outer layer of skin, then cut away the leaves about an inch above the bulb and finely slice. The leaves are less appetising than spring onions but still perfect in an omelette or classic Spanish tortilla, as a flavoursome addition to your stock pot, or added to stews and soups at the end for a flash of green and mild allium hit.