Easter is just around the corner, and glazed carrots are always part of my holiday dinner. This year, I'm growing carrots in my garden from seed, so I was lucky enough to have a good batch of small but tasty ones to harvest this week. Of course, carrots come with big bushy tops. I used to discard the tops in the compost until my friend Nat and a former colleague at The Chopping Block (who now happens to be a farmer in Kansas) went on a rant about people throwing out carrot tops. It made me think twice about wasting those beautiful bright-green tops.
Carrot tops are herbal, earthy greens that have a slight taste of carrots. I want to be clear that carrot tops are NOT poisonous. There seems to be a misconception that they are but in fact, they are very edible and loaded with vitamins and minerals. They are slightly bitter (especially the stems), but that can be resolved with a little blanching if you want to include them in a salad or serve sautéed as a side dish. That's not even necessary if you just want to make pesto from the tops.
One thing you will want to do when bringing home carrots from the market is to separate the greens from the carrots. That's because the tops will continue to draw moisture away from the vegetables as they sit in your fridge. Just remove the tops from the vegetables and store them separately. The tops won't last very long so plan to use them as soon as possible. Wrap a damp paper towel around them and store in a plastic bag for a day or so.
Making carrot top pesto is exactly the same process and technique of making pesto with basil or any other green. This pesto is zingy and tasty and goes great on anything you would normally put pesto on, such as pasta, zoodles, sandwiches, pizza and more. The best part is: it's totally free since you would have bought (or grown) the carrots anyway. Plus, you still have the carrots to enjoy as well. Win win! Freeze any leftover pesto or keep in a jar in the fridge for up to a week. The olive oil will solidify, so bring to room temperature before using.
Carrot Top Pesto
Makes about 1 cup
3 Tablespoons nuts (I used sunflower seeds but pine nuts, pecans, pepitas would all work well.)
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 cups carrot tops (from 4-5 carrots, roughly chopped)
1/2 cup packed fresh herbs (I used a combination of basil, mint and oregano from the garden but use whatever you have on hand.)
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Lemon juice, freshly squeezed to taste
Red chili flakes, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Turn the food processor on and drop the garlic and nuts into it while it is running to create a rough paste. Turn off and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the cheese and pulse until combined.
2. Add carrot tops and fresh herbs, and pulse until everything is in small pieces and creates an even thicker, rougher paste. You may need to stop and scrape the sides of the bowl a few times in order to get everything to chop evenly.
3. Drizzle the olive oil into the food processor as it runs. If the pesto is too thick, add additional olive oil to achieve desired consistency, a little at a time. I like my pesto to be spreadable, so I add oil until I get there.
4. Season to taste with fresh lemon juice, red chili flakes and salt and pepper.
Pesto is just one idea for using up carrot tops. They also work well in chimichurri sauce, soups and salads.
I turned this pesto into a sauce for zucchini noodles I made with my OXO hand-held spiralizer I purchased at The Chopping Block. It's great for small jobs like this.
I always let the zoodles drain in a colander over the sink if I have enough time so that the excess moisture is removed from the zucchini.
I sauteed some Swiss chard (also from the garden) in olive oil for an extra veggie boost to this dish.
I removed the Swiss chard from the pan, seasoned with salt and pepper and set aside. I added more oil to the pan and sauteed the zoodles for a few minutes.
I added about a half of a cup of the pesto to the pan and mixed well.
Add the Swiss chard back to the pan and taste for seasoning. Plate with a little grated Parmesan cheese, and enjoy. I especially did knowing that I grew most of the ingredients in this dish myself!
Our class calendars are chock full of spring menus right now that will inspire you to take advantage of all of the amazing produce soon to hit markets including carrots, ramps, fiddlehead ferns, rhubarb and asparagus. Here are some of my favorites:
- Pasta Workshop: Spring Menu
- Seafood 101: Spring Menu
- Wine and Dine: Spring Menu
- Spring Forward: Let's Brunch
- Know Your Gnocchi: Spring Menu
- Singles in Spring
- Date Night: Spring Dinner Party