While chatting with my parents over Skype last weekend:
Me: Look at these heirloom carrots that I bought at the rooftop garden! (excitedly dangling a mess of carrot greens and orange blobs)
Mum: Ah, they are small and round.
Me: Cute, eh? Rather unusual from what we would get at the supermarkets… and, they taste really good, with a, erm, carrotty (for the lack of a better adjective) taste.
Mum: That’s a lot of leaves. They are edible by the way – for instance, you can use them for making soup.
Me: Really? Hmmm.

Potage-Toit: Urban Garden in Brussels

I had read about the rooftop terrace at the Bibliothèque royale de Belgique in Brussels (thanks to S Marks the Spot!) Even though the library is round the corner from my office, I had never gone into the building.

What a gem it turned out to be!

I like the modernist 1960s architecture and design. The views from the higher floors – especially the 5th storey where the cafeteria and rooftop terrace are located – are impressive.

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Tucked away on one end of the rooftop is Potage-Toit, an organic urban garden that was created in 2012 to make use of the wide open space atop the library.

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Not only can you visit the garden and find out more from the team that tends to the plants, you can also buy freshly harvested produce (Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1300-1400). These include herbs like basil and rosemary, vegetables such as squash and eggplant, as well as edible flowers.

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Most of the plants are laid out in the open in sacks of compost-dirt. There is a geodesic dome-shaped greenhouse that serves as a nursery for the garden. The team at Potage-Toit uses only seeds that are organic and come from Belgian farmers who preserve the biodiversity, including heirloom varieties.

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When we were there last Friday, the tomatoes were sold out. We bought what was left: A box of purple long beans, an irregularly shaped cucumber and a bunch of short and round carrots.

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Total cost: 7€, which is a little more expensive that what you would pay in a supermarket or bio shop.

But it was worth it as the beans, cucumber and carrots had such intense flavours compared to what we would get in a supermarket – I suppose this is what they are supposed to taste like! Plus, these were carefully cultivated by hand instead of being produced en masse.

The carrots were so good that it seemed like a shame to cook them. So we ate them raw, together with the cucumber, with a dash of salt and pepper.

What remained was the bunch of carrot tops (also known as “carrot greens”).

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As I have no garden (yet) at my place, it wasn’t possible to throw them in the compost. I’ve heard of people making vegetable stock with carrot tops but wasn’t keen on making any.

Then came an idea: How about making pesto with carrot tops?

Recipe: Carrot Top Pesto

A quick search online came up with a few recipes, together with confirmation that carrot greens are not poisonous (so say The New York Times, Smithsonian and The Kitchn).

I found a simple carrot top pesto recipe on Bon Appetit and below is my adaptation.

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2 cups carrot tops (excluding the stems)
½ cup basil leaves, packed
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
⅓ cup olive oil – the original recipe uses 1/2 cup
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons of unsalted nuts – I used a mix of almonds, brazil nuts and hazelnuts instead of macadamia or pine nuts
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Pulse garlic and nuts in a food processor until a coarse paste forms.
2. Add basil, Parmesan, and reserved carrot tops; process until a coarse paste forms.
3. Add olive oil and pulse until combined; season with salt and pepper.

Eat with
The recipe in Bon Appetit mixes the carrot top pesto with roasted carrots. I think it would be great as a pesto in pasta too. Meanwhile, I’m eating dollops of this delicious carrot top pesto spread over bread. Yums!

Try these too
Brazil nut pesto
Mint pesto
I’ve left out one made using celery leaves as that turned out to be too bitter for my liking!

P.S. You might have noticed that the carrots are different in the last picture – this is because I had to buy more carrots (from the supermarket) in order to make some roasted carrots.

17 replies on “Carrot Top Pesto + Urban Garden in Brussels

    1. Hah, no chance against the typhoon!

      In Singapore, the government is starting to develop more gardens or green spaces with playgrounds atop the multi-storey carparks. Which is great as it would also help cool the buildings 🙂

  1. My grandma used to put them in a soup, just like your mum – I think I didn’t like it so I’ve never tried to make one myself. I should though, my taste has changed about a hundred times since then. I’d certainly try your pesto though, looks so yummie!

    1. I shall have to try using carrot greens for a soup to see if I’ll like it (I didn’t like the taste of raw carrot tops). Try this pesto and let me know what you think!

  2. That photo of the view is stunning! And what a lovely spot for a garden. I’m so pleased I got to explore it through your eyes. And I had no idea carrot greens were edible!

    Erik and I are very fond of making pesto from unexpected ingredients — in fact, we used to keep a blog, The Besto Pesto, detailing our adventures (thebestopesto.blogspot.com). Of particular note are the ones made from beet greens, which came out a shocking burgundy hue.

    1. Almost quite as impressive is the view of the city from the toilets, which had floor-to-ceiling sliding windows on one entire side 😉

      The beet greens pesto reminded me of the time I made red wine pasta (cooking linguine in leftover wine). Pesto is so easy to make and you can readily vary the flavours. Mmm, maybe I’ll make some this weekend with some basil and mint that we started growing on my tiny balcony!

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