Over the summer, we grew carrots – A LOT of them. So much so, we have had to can some. This was the recipe we used to preserve our abundant carrot harvest. For those of you growing carrots, here’s a trick to growing big carrots that I did not know about. You have to thin them out so they can get bigger. I always thought thinning was a bit of a waste, but it isn’t! Eat those thinned plants!
I actually made salads of almost completely carrot tops and the teeny carrot I thinned this summer. Rather than tossing those in the compost, we had a delicious slightly carrot flavored salad at least once a week for about six weeks. The kids liked it so much, they would actually go chose the carrots to thin based on how the greens looked so they could eat them in their salad.
When I tell people this, most of them have no idea you can eat the tops of the carrot! But they have so many uses. In fact, carrot tops are a nutritious and versatile ingredient that can be used to replace herbs in all kinds of dishes. The tops have a slightly bitter flavor, and they will get more bitter and tougher as the carrots get bigger. As the carrots grow, consider combining them with other herbs and a squeeze of lemon or vinegar as a counterbalance. If you like salt, add a pinch!
Carrot tops can also aid digestion. There has been little research on the health benefits of carrot tops, probably because people don’t regularly eat them. But they are rich in nutrients, containing around six times more vitamin C than the root, as well as lots of potassium, calcium, and phytonutrients.
In addition to getting more food by eating the tops, you’ll get the nutritious benefits of eating the entire plant. We usually ate the tops in a salad chopped up and raw, however, you can cook them. Or you could try a carrot top pesto, which is really good!
Below is the best recipe I have tried, and as with all of our recipes, change it to fit your particular tastes. You can add parmesan cheese too, but I like it without.
Carrot Top Pesto
- 1 clove garlic chopped or grated
- 2 tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 of a lemon)
- 1 tsp fresh lemon zest (about 1/2 of a lemon)
- carrot tops from 1 large or 2 smaller bunches of carrots (yields 1 cup blanched)
- 4 green onions fresh green parts only
- 1/2 cup raw walnuts (optional)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Blanche the carrot tops by first removing the thick stem pieces. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl with ice cubes and cold water in it. Once boiling, add the carrot tops to the pot. Stir occasionally, cooking for about 3 minutes or until bright green and tender. Immediately remove from the pot, drain the hot water, and add the carrot tops to the ice cube bowl to stop the cooking process. Drain the carrot tops, wring out excess liquid, and spread them on a plate to dry while you do the remaining recipe prep.
Add all of the ingredients from garlic through walnuts (if using) to the food processor. Blend until thick chunky paste forms with small bits of carrot tops. Depending on the size of your food processor, you may need to stop frequently to scrape down the sides. Add the olive oil a tablespoon at a time until combined. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice if desired.
To use as a pasta sauce, cook your pasta in salted water according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water, drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the reserved cooking water and carrot top pesto, stir to combine, and cook over low heat until warmed. Serve right away.
Otherwise, once cooled to room temperature, store the pesto in the fridge in an airtight container for several days. The bright green color may fade to a slightly darker green, and this is totally normal.
This pesto can be frozen. If you choose to freeze it, blanch the parrot tops with 1/4 cup of fresh mint. If you want to, switch out the mint for any other herb. I honestly prefer basil or oregano to mint in this recipe, but again, do as you wish and make this for you!