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Over the past decade, there has been a bit of a trend towards nose to tail eating of animals, and in the past couple of years there seems to have been a surge in the vegetable equivalent, whatever that would be called – root to tip eating perhaps?  Of course this ‘trend’ is part of what has always been considered good old fashioned frugal housekeeping – covering everything from potato peel soup, or leftover cereal in in pancakes, to turning bones into stock or stale bread into crumbs.

slice radishes

This frugal approach was part of my upbringing, and I still hate wasting any food, and always try to manage the fridge/freezer/pantry as efficiently as possible.  I emphasise try, as I’m certainly not always successful in this –  which is why I’m currently googling what to do with freezer burned meat…any great ideas please put them in the comments!  As you might have seen, I already have a few 2-for-1 recipes such as chicken noodle soup and chicken rillettes, or quince jelly and paste, that take a bit of that ‘nose to tail’ approach.

wash reddish greens thoroughly

Despite this, the ultimate in root to tip eating – using the stalks and leaves of root vegetables as well as the roots (or vice versa I suppose)* – is something that’s relatively new to me.  I think it might be partly that until the last couple of years, most supermarkets would rarely sell them with leaves attached, so it has taken the rise of farmers markets to really expose people to the idea of buying the whole vegetable.  The other factor is that even where vegetables are sold with leaves intact, in many cases they are badly wilted, so you really need to be able to buy within a day or so of picking – happily something that is increasingly common!

add almonds, lemon, garlic and radish leaves to food processor

So what sorts of vegetables am I talking about?  Mostly vegetables like radishes, carrots, beetroot, turnips, though there are many others.  Many of you may have tried these, but if you’re thinking carrot or radish leaves! it makes more sense when you know the plant families they’re part of: radishes and turnips are Brassicas, the same family as cabbage, bok choy or collards; carrots are the same family as parsley and dill, and beetroot is the same family as spinach and silverbeet (chard).

process to a rough paste

While there are many ways of eating these greens, for radishes my favourite is pesto.  This is partly because even a large bunch of radishes doesn’t have that many leaves – certainly not enough for a side dish alone like spinach for example – and also because the fresh peppery flavour goes so well with garlic, pecorino and a touch of lemon.  I’ve used this pesto in many ways: on toast, with pasta, with beans, but this way, tossed through spelt grains (though barley, rye or freekeh are also great), along with the sautéed radishes themselves and optional bacon, is really delicious.

sauté bacon if using

It’s a particularly lovely lunch dish and this recipe makes me a week worth of lunches. As you can see above, it’s also very flexible, with three possible variations pictured:  on its own (though with a handful of fresh parsley added; with thinly sliced fennel and halved cherry tomatoes; and with roughly chopped rocket and sliced Lebanese cucumber.  A boiled egg, some white beans or chickpeas, or some roast capsicum would also be delicious I think.  If you’ve never tried the ‘root to tip approach’ grab a bunch of radishes and give it a try!

add spelt to pan

*Note: using stalks, leaves and cores of vegetables such as silverbeet, cauliflower and broccoli is another whole category that I’ll cover in a later post

Pearl spelt with sautéed radishes and radish leaf pesto

Adapted from recipes at Chocolate & Zucchini and The Yellow House

  • One bunch of radishes, complete with leaves
  • 200g pearl spelt or similar grain (barley, rye, farro, freekeh)
  • 100g bacon (optional)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 30g slivered almonds, lightly toasted in a pan (you can also use pistachios, walnuts or other nuts if you like)
  • 30g pecorino or parmesan (or 2-3 Tbs savoury yeast flakes)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • a long strip of lemon peel
  • about 2 Tbs olive oil (enough to give a ‘dolloping’ texture)
  • half a bunch of flat leaf parsley

Remove leaves from radishes, discarding any yellow or withered ones, and soak leaves in water, swishing around to wash well.  Simmer spelt or other grain until cooked but still slightly chewy.  For spelt, cover with 3 cups water and cook for about 20 min – timing for for other grains will very hugely depending on the grain, with pearl barley perhaps 15 min, and rye or unpearled spelt as long as 40 min, so follow packet directions or check often. Drain off excess water, retaining about a quarter of a cup.

For the pesto, drain and dry the radish leaves.  Add the almonds, garlic, lemon peel, cheese and radish leaves to a small food processor and whizz on high speed until a rough paste.  Add olive oil and blend again briefly.  If the paste is very thick add a little more olive oil.

Slice bacon if using, add to a cold pan, and gently fry until fat is released.  Increase heat slightly and cook until beginning to brown.   [If not using bacon, fry radishes in a Tbs of olive oil].  Rinse radishes and trim ends before cutting in quarters, or halves for small ones.  Add to the pan and fry for a few minutes before adding sugar.  Continue to fry until bacon is crisp and radishes slightly browned on the cut surfaces.  Add spelt and toss with radishes and bacon, using some of the reserved water to scrape all the brown goodness from the pan.

Transfer to a serving bowl and stir through the pesto and chopped parsley, adding a little more water or olive oil if needed to enable the pesto to coat the spelt thoroughly. Season with pepper, and taste for salt – you may not need any with the bacon and pecorino.

If storing to eat later, for lunch etc, extra ingredients can be added when serving as discussed above.

Makes 4-5 work lunches, and would serve a similar number as a side dish.

[Edit 17/7/18: Note that you can easily make this vegan by leaving out the bacon and using yeast flakes rather than pecorino – Mr M made this version as he’s not keen on cheese.]

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