I want to share this carrot top pesto idea (more of an idea than a recipe) with the world, because it’s been kind of revelatory in my house these last weeks, and I don’t want to let the fact that I don’t have anything revelatory to say keep me from doing so.
Today, we maintained the tradition we started after Shiv was born, of going to see our friends on their beautiful farm to celebrate the day, hiding cascarones and eating ham. I came home two nights ago from a five-day school trip, during which I got to hang out with wonderful colleagues and students, enjoy some gorgeous California weather and meaningful programming, and also, along with most of my colleagues and many students, got sick as a dog. The week before my trip was Spring Break, shared by me and Shiv, which meant lots of adventures and play dates and also the home project of moving Shiv into a new room, complete with new floors (done by Jill), walls painted the color of his choice (done by me), and big-boy bunk beds (because the toddler bed was no longer cutting it!).
And, somehow, it’s almost April.
I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved a few weeks ago, a book I can hardly believe I managed not to read until now, although a part of me knows I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much out of it had it made its way into my life sooner. That novel is astonishing.
Right now, I’m enjoying Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, which is my book club’s selection for this month, suggested by Jill, who read and loved it a few months ago; I was handed down a friend’s copy of The Girl on the Train, which everyone says I shouldn’t start until I’m in a position to be sucked in for a few days…I think I shall reserve it for this coming weekend, as a reward to myself for weathering the return back to school and the grading/planning/emailing/meeting that will accompany it.
The last person I spoke to on the phone is caring for a dying parent; the last person I received an email from is nearly 39 weeks pregnant, waiting for her first child to be born. Those are some appropriate bookends, seeing how it’s Easter and all.
CARROT TOP PESTO
Sometimes Jill comes home from class on Mondays with a big box filled with beautiful, homegrown veggies from her student Will, who just happens to be a very generous master gardener. Last time he sent some lovely carrots, and in my desire not to waste a single thing that he had grown and given, I decided it was the time to try carrot top pesto, which I’d heard of as an idea but never eaten. The result was so successful that I’ve made it twice since; neither time was it a precise, scientific endeavor, so what I’ll offer here is more method than recipe—but pesto is forgiving, and fiddle-able, so I hope you’ll still give it a go.
The first time I made this, I used a handful of basil leaves as the “accent” herb; tonight, I used flat-leaf parsley from the garden, because our basil is in sad-awful shape. Both ways were tasty, though I think I prefer the flavor the basil adds, if you have or can get some.
One last note about this method—the almond butter seems really weird, I know, but it TOTALLY WORKS. I saw the idea on The Faux Martha and decided to give it a whirl with the first batch of carrot top pesto I made a few weeks ago since, honestly, I wasn’t expecting it to be very good. Shows what I know, right? The almond butter adds body, creaminess, and, duh, nuttiness, and it’s genius because I always have a container of almond butter in the fridge, whereas pine nuts are so dang expensive that I never buy them. So—almond butter in your pesto, my new favorite kitchen hack.
greens from one bunch of carrots, blanched* (remove the leaves from the stems if you can, but don’t be too finicky about it)
a handful of basil, flat-leaf parsley, or another fresh herb of your choice
1-2 T almond butter (start with 1 T and judge as you go)
1-2 cloves garlic, depending on your preference
Parmesan, if you have it
Whir it all up in a food processor, tasting and adjusting for flavor/texture as you go. Some people like their pesto more runny, which means more olive oil. Some people prefer theirs more chunky, which means less olive oil. If you’re adding Parmesan, hold back on the salt.
Once prepared, the pesto will keep for about a week in the fridge, much longer in the freezer. We like to use it on pizzas, in lieu of sauce, or, our latest thing is dicing Yukon Golds, roasting them in the oven with olive oil & a little salt, then tossing them with the pesto when they come out of the oven. Pesto is also a friend of pasta, of course, either hot or cold!
*To blanch the carrot tops, wash them thoroughly first, removing any brown or yellow parts. Set a colander in the sink and a bowl half-full of ice water to the side of the sink. Bring salted water to boil in the pot of your choice (making sure you’ve got enough clearance that the water won’t spill over when you add the carrot tops). Once it’s boiling, use tongs to add the carrot tops, pushing the greens below the surface and allowing them to hang out in the water for a minute or two until they are bright green. When they’re ready, dump the greens out into the colander, then immediately plunge them into the ice water to keep them from cooking any further. At this point, you can dry and refrigerate the carrot tops to use later, or you can go ahead and make your pesto.
It happens about once a week; a woman approaches me in public to comment on my hair.
“I LOVE your hair!” “That hair looks so great on you.” “I’ve always wanted to do that!”
What’s funny is that I don’t actually have any hair—or rather, I have very little hair. I shaved it last summer and have kept it short ever since, using a #2 on the same clippers that Jill uses to cut Shiv’s hair.
My relationship with my hair has a long and complicated history; if you know me, you know that I shaved my head once before, my freshman year of college, as a kind of experiment to see if I could pull it off, a test to see if I could actually be the kind of woman who would shave her head. Turns out I am, in fact.
There is a lot of cultural attachment to and significance placed upon women’s hair, its length and style and how hair correlates to femininity, attractiveness, and sexuality. For many years after my father died, I grew my hair out, keeping it long down my back, the way he had always wanted me to wear it. When Shiv was born, my hair became more of a nuisance than a pleasure, more about work than style, so I donated eight inches of it and transitioned back into the pixie cut I’d worn in high school.
Then last summer, I decided it was time to shave it all off again. There was no elaborate, profound reason—I simply wanted to. I was tired of dealing with my hair, of maintaining it and spending money on it and letting its relative cooperation or lack thereof—i.e., “bad hair days” dictate how I felt about myself on a given day. It didn’t feel like any kind of radical move to me at the time, except perhaps a kind of radical simplification. One less thing to deal with.
The fact that it’s only women—of all ages and colors—who compliment my hair is not lost on me. When I first cut it, the men in my life mostly made jokes about it; not mean jokes, just the kind of jokes that usually betray some sort of discomfort on the joke-teller’s part. Whereas men never seem to have to account for shaving their heads, the assumption is always that I should I have some sort of profound reason for cutting my hair, something noble or extreme; simply wanting to wasn’t enough. In the ultimate display of discomfort, Jill’s dad—standing in for my dad, who would have invariably done the same—offered unsolicited advice about “what a pretty girl” I was and how I “looked so much better” with longer hair.
I think I probably do look better with more hair, at least according to the beauty standards Jill’s dad was referring to, and by which I myself was raised. But it’s actually sort of comforting to be divorced from those standards to a certain extent—shaving my head is at least a partial way of opting out of the whole, exhausting game regarding products and styling and maintenance. To be sure, there’s still plenty left – skin care and make-up and fashion—but the shaved head has allowed me to step into a slightly different version of myself, one who cares a bit less about whether or not other people like her hair. And that, along with not having to give it a single thought or moment of attention, feels fairly revolutionary.
PORK CHOPS WITH BOURBON CREAM SAUCE
Source: Glen Boudreaux, Jolie Vue Farms (our meat CSA; Glen shared the recipe in one of this monthly newsletters)
If the name hasn’t sold you already, allow me: these pork chops are so. damn. good. Multiple steps notwithstanding, I have pulled this off for many a weeknight dinner, and would happily also set them in front of company. I’ve wanted to blog it for weeks now, but every time we make it, we devour it so thoroughly that there are never any leftovers to photograph! Luckily, we managed to hold back enough earlier this week to save one chop for the next day, when Jill generously snapped pictures of it, and its fellow leftover green beans, before eating it for lunch.
Shiv would like to add that this sauce is worth making if only so that you might dip slices of crusty, buttered bread into it. He’s not wrong.
2 bone-in pork chops, approx. 1” thick (I’ve used thinner chops as well as 4 smaller, boneless chops with success – simply adjust the cooking time as smaller/boneless chops won’t need as much time)*
3 large garlic cloves, 1 minced & 2 peeled but left whole
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 T Kosher salt (reduce if using table salt)
4 T butter, 2 T melted
1 cup beef, chicken, or vegetable broth
2 T bourbon (I have also subbed cream sherry when I was tragically out of bourbon)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 T heavy cream
*I have taken to brining pork chops 1-2 hours in advance of cooking them. It’s super simple, adds flavor, and ensures that the chops don’t dry out, especially if we’re grilling. Dissolve 2 T salt in 2 cups water, then add a couple of ice cubes to the brine to even out the temperature. Pour over chops, and throw in any flavoring agents you may have on hand: fresh herbs like oregano, thyme, or rosemary, half a squeeze lemon, peppercorns, star anise, bay leaves, etc. Even a 15 minute soak in brine makes a difference!
Dry the chops with a paper towel and place on a clean platter or cookie sheet. Combine the melted butter, minced garlic, thyme, black pepper, and Kosher salt, then brush the flavored butter all over the chops, allowing them to come to room temperature.
While you wait, bring your broth and whole garlic cloves to a boil in a small saucepan, then reduce heat to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the cloves are soft and the broth has been reduced by half, which should take about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and mash the softened garlic with a fork.
If you are cooking more than 2 chops, you’ll need to do so in batches – set your oven to “warm” or “low” and set a foil-lined baking sheet in the oven and keep an additional cookie sheet or piece of foil handy, so that you can cover the chops once they’re in the oven.
When you’re ready to cook the chops, heat a large cast-iron skillet on medium-high. Add the remaining 2 T butter and swirl to coat the pan. Sear the chops for 2-3 minutes on each side—you want a nice, brown color. Once you’ve browned both sides, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook until the chops are cooked through, which will take anywhere from 6-10 minutes, depending on their size/thickness. Make sure that you hear the chops sizzle as they cook; if they are quiet, that means the heat is too low and your chops are more likely to dry out.
Once the chops are cooked to your likeness, transfer them to a platter and tent with foil, letting them rest. (If you need to cook additional chops, transfer the first batch to the oven and cover them while you cook the second batch.) Now it’s time to make the sauce! Or snauce, as my friend Marynelle would say.
DON’T YOU DARE THROW OUT ANY OF THE GOODNESS THAT HAS ACCUMULATED IN YOUR SKILLET! That glorious liquid is crucial to making the bourbon sauce taste like heaven. In order to get all of the delicious tasty browned bits into our snauce, we need to deglaze the pan. So, return the skillet to medium heat and add your garlic-smushed broth; use a spatula to gently scrape and loosen all of the flavor at the bottom. Simmer until reduced by a third. Stir in the bourbon, simmer another minute, then whisk in the mustard and cream. Remove from heat and return the chops (plus any accumulated juices) to the skillet, turning to coat them in the snauce. Serve immediately!