Recipe: Carrot Top Pesto

Diane Morgan

Diane Morgan › Diane Morgan is an award-winning cookbook author, freelance food writer, culinary instructor, and restaurant consultant. She ...


Carrots are so common in the supermarket that we hardly think of them as having a season, let alone an ancient history with fascinating lore. They are grown in temperate regions around the world. Although orange carrots are the most familiar, you can also find white, yellow, purple, and deep violet Asian roots. Most scholars agree that the first carrots, with branched purple roots, originated in Afghanistan and spread eastward to India, China, and Japan, and also westward into Arab-occupied Spain in the twelfth century and then through continental Europe in the fourteenth century. The carrots cultivated in northwestern Europe before and during the sixteenth century were all long, tapered purple or yellow roots. In the seventeenth century, horticulturists in the Netherlands hybridized the bright orange color, which became the favored type. Soon after the discovery of the New World, European explorers carried the carrot across the Atlantic. By the beginning of the 1600s, colonists in Jamestown, Virginia, were planting them in their gardens. Today, the carota species is a favorite for gardeners who sow seeds in the spring as soon as the soil is warm and enjoy them throughout the summer and fall. Farmers’ markets are the best places to find all of the fun, colorful types.

I almost always buy fresh carrots with their feathery green tops attached. In the past, I would invariably cut the tops off and send them to the compost bin. Honestly, it never occurred to me that they were edible. But the tops of other root vegetables are edible, so why wouldn’t carrot tops be edible, too? One day I blanched the leaves, puréed them with a little olive oil, and then used the purée as a gorgeous green accent sauce for fish, much in the same way I use basil oil. My next idea was to make pesto, trading out the basil for carrot tops, which proved an amazing alternative. This recipe is an absolute keeper, and it’s satisfying to make use of the whole plant.

I serve this as a dip with crudités, and often add a dollop on top of bruschetta that has been smeared with fresh goat cheese. It’s also perfect simply tossed with pasta.

Makes about 2/3 cup

1 cup lightly packed carrot leaves (stems removed)
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove
1/4 tsp kosher or fine sea salt
3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted (see Cook’s Note)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano


In a food processor, combine the carrot leaves, oil, garlic, and salt and process until finely minced. Add the pine nuts and pulse until finely chopped. Add the Parmesan and pulse just until combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days before using.

Cook’s Note
Toasting pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, and pumpkin seeds brings out their flavor. Spread the nuts or seeds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, place in a preheated 350ºF oven and toast until fragrant and lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the nut or seed. Alternatively, nuts and seeds can be browned in a microwave. Spread in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high power, stopping to stir once or twice, until fragrant and lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Watch them closely so they don’t burn.

Do you ever cook with the carrot top? (The greenery, not the comedian)

This recipe originally appeared in Roots: The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 Recipes Recipe (Chronicle Books). It is re-posted here along with adapted text with permission from the author. Copyright © 2012 by Diane Morgan.

Photo Credit: Antonis Achilleos

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