Carrot top pesto: An (unsuccessful) experiment

Harry and I bought carrots this week. We never buy carrots and I’m not entirely sure why. I think maybe somewhere in the back of our subconscious we see them as a little bit too pedestrian, despite having enjoyed them in a multitude of ways (in mashed potato, roasted and smothered in butter or raw and smothered in hummus). Our aversion doesn’t entirely make sense. However, this week we bought a bunch with wild, frothy tops that spilled out of the canvas Rewe bag on the way home, nodding as they bumped against Harry’s rucksack.

So did you know you could eat carrot greens? Whenever I do buy carrots I try to buy them with tops intact, promising myself I’ll do something with them, as if I’ve taken advantage of some kind of two for the price of one offer, but so far I have failed to do this. Therefore, this week’s the week chaps, it’s time for some carrot top pesto. When it comes to pesto I’m happy to be adventurous. The traditional basil and pine nut variation is undoubtedly delicious, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a place for others. Polpo’s rocket and walnut pesto first broadened my horizons and put me onto the green + nut/seed + cheese (+ garlic) equation. It’s incredibly tasty and much cheaper to make the original, which endears me to it, but is also completely different, with a strong peppery kick. If carrot top pesto works out I’m imagining it to be subtly sweet, like carrots themselves, with a clean herby brightness.

Like all pestos I see that this guy could be used in many different ways. Here’s five ways to use carrot top pesto:

  1. On pasta with a trickle of olive oil
  2. Smeared on toast
  3. Stirred through hummus
  4. As a salad dressing with sharp lemon and feta
  5. And, finally, Bon Appetit even toss roasted carrots in the mixture, which seems like a pretty great shout

To make this a true experiment I will be eschewing the recipes I’ve flicked through on the topic. A lot appear to be a take on a traditional pesto with carrot tops, keeping the basil in place, but that seems to be cheating. There is a mixture of different nuts/seeds used however, which is at least promising – there seems to be more space for versatility here. Earlier this week Harry called sunflower seeds ‘the thinking man’s pine nut’, which seems reason enough to use them as the nut/seed of choice. Apart from that I will keep the garlic, parmesan and olive oil and see what happens.

The result

Well, in short, the results weren’t entirely favourable. After whizzing everything together in a food processor, the carrot tops were much less marked in flavour than I was expecting, being more akin to parsley than any other herb; they were darker and richer instead of being vibrant and light, with a much more generic flavour. This meant the pesto was a little grassy for my liking, but I still think it’s a good way to reduce food waste if the opportunity arises, and perhaps I shouldn’t have ignored advice – a handful of basil would have worked well.

I used Polpo’s recipe as a guide and used 1:1 ratio of seeds to carrot tops, with half the amount of parmesan. I added a small clove of garlic, which I think is almost compulsory here as it makes it much more interesting, and had to be generous with my seasonings. Next time to brighten it a little I would experiment with some lemon zest and juice – I could see this going particularly well on some white fish.

Will I make it again? Honestly, probably not. Keeping the basil and adding some lemon would certainly help, but that would also mean buying carrots again and who knows when that will happen next.