This carrot top pesto recipe was originally published in my cookbook, Romancing the Stove: the unabridged guide to aphrodisiac foods. It’s probably one of my favorites in the book because of its versatility and the fact that it is eco friendly, not to mention practical. That’s because this pesto recipe features an ingredient most people just throw away. I’m talking about carrot tops.
What are carrot greens?
Carrot greens are the tops of carrots, the part that grows out of the ground. (Don’t forget that carrot is a root vegetable.) And yes, carrot leaves are edible!
Carrot tops are often chopped off before the carrots are sold. But if you buy your carrots with the tops on, do not throw them in the trash, or compost.) There are so many carrot top recipes to help you use these tasty and nutritious greens. I encourage you to start cooking with them rather than simply discarding your carrot tops. It is not only a great way to change up the flavors of your recipes but it diminishes food waste.
The health benefits of carrot tops
Carrot leaves are as nutritious as many other greens and have a unique, herbal flavor. The flavor is a touch bitter, in the same way parsley is bitter. In fact, that bitterness once earned carrot greens a reputation as poisonous. Don’t worry! They’re perfectly safe. And once you try a great carrot leaves recipe like this one, you’ll be sold on this often ignored vegetable.
In fact, carrot stems make a good source of potassium, which is vital to sexual health. They also happen to contain both calcium and vitamin K, which are linked with bone health. I’ve taken to cooking with them, not just in my carrot top pesto. But I also incorporate these somewhat biting greens into soups. And I use sautéed carrot greens in stir fries, almost they way I would spinach. But they pack a more flavorful punch. (I also blend them into fruit smoothies, but don’t tell my kids that!)
Choose organic carrot leaves
I do recommend buying organic carrots, if you plan on using the greens. Since most farmers don’t expect customers to eat the greens, conventionally grown carrot tops can come with a lot of unwanted pesticides.
But here’s a tip for those of you ready to start cooking with carrot tops. If you find an organic carrot farmer at your farmers’ market, ask them if they have any extra carrot greens. Many customers asked for the tops to be removed when they buy a bunch of carrots and the farmer may give you those extra greens for free.
How to use Carrot Top Pesto
If you use a good blender or food processor, you can whip up a batch of Easy, Vegan Carrot Top Pesto in a flash. I make it in my Vitamix, which I consider the most indispensable tool in my kitchen.
Vegan and non-vegan uses for this homemade pesto recipe
Although I recommend it as a topping for your favorite pasta, as it is printed below, this vegan pesto sauce also makes a nice dip for vegetables and chips and a flavorful sandwich spread. You can also use it to make a pesto pizza.
Although this is a vegan pesto recipe, I like using it with white meats and fish. It is great with chicken and a blend of cheeses for a homemade pesto chicken pizza. Or try it to make a pesto chicken salad or topping for fresh, grilled fish.
Notes on my pesto ingredients
You might be surprised by some of the other ingredients in this pesto recipe. Most pesto recipes call for extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil tends to have a beautiful, somewhat delicate flavor. You can use extra virgin olive oil in this recipe. But because the other ingredients, in particular the carrot greens, have such bold flavor, it isn’t necessary to use an expensive oil. Taste the olive oil before you begin and if you like the flavor, it should work in this recipe.
In addition, this recipe calls for walnuts, not the European pine nuts used in a traditional pesto. You can use pine nuts if you prefer them to walnuts. However I do not recommend using Chinese pine nuts, which can cause a condition called, “pine mouth.”
This simple pesto recipe features an ingredient typically discarded by most home cooks. To be on the safe side, use the greens from organic carrots in this recipe.
- 1/4 cup unsalted walnuts
- 1 tbsp + 1/4 c olive oil
- 1 tbsp sweet onion roughly chopped
- 1 clove garlic roughly chopped
- 1 bunch carrot tops thoroughly washed and roughly chopped*
- smoked salt to taste
- black pepper optional
- 1 lb whole wheat linguine
Toast walnuts in pan or oven until golden. Set aside.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onions in the pan until soft. Add garlic and saute an additional minute before stirring in the carrot tops and a pinch of smoked salt. Cook until carrot tops wilt, about 1 minute.
Transfer carrot top mixture to a blender, adding toasted walnuts and 1 tbsp water. Blend, adding olive oil in a slow stream until mixture becomes a coarse paste (the texture of pesto). You may not need all the olive oil or you may need additional.
Season with additional smoked salt to taste. If you like a little heat, try adding in a touch of freshly ground black pepper. Set aside while you prepare the pasta.
Make pasta according to package instructions, cooking to al dente.
Drain pasta and toss with the pesto. Serve immediately. Alternatively, serve the pesto at room temperature as a dipping sauce or refrigerate and use as a salad dressing.
Carrots are generally sold with their tops still attached at farmers’ markets and produce stands. Although many grocery stores remove the tops and seal the carrots in plastic bags before sale, Whole Foods and other natural foods grocers often sell the root vegetables in their natural glory.
Love the recipe? Get my cookbook, Romancing the Stove: the unabridged guide to aphrodisiac foods
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