While the taste of juicy homegrown carrots is reward enough to justify growing them, throwing away their bountiful green leaves can seem wasteful. Why not use them to make a delicious meal instead?
Carrot leaves, often referred to as ‘carrot tops’, are brimming with flavour and nutrients, making them the perfect sustainable, healthy addition to pesto. With a taste that’s like a sweet combination of carrot and parsley, carrot tops combine beautifully with nuts, parmesan and olive oil. And unlike basil, homegrown carrot leaves are available all year round.
Whether you've got a bountiful harvest from your garden or have just picked up some farm-fresh carrots from the market, this recipe is a fantastic way to make the most of your produce. By reducing food waste and using every part of the vegetable, you're also making a positive environmental impact.
So put on your apron, gather those carrot tops, and let's get cooking!
Harvesting the Carrot Tops
Carrot tops can be selectively harvested while the roots are growing, or cut all at once when the roots are pulled from the soil. Young carrot leaves are the most tender; if using these, cut only a couple of fronds from the outside of each plant, leaving enough to support its continued growth. If using larger, more mature leaves, be sure to chop off the thick stems, which can be tough to process.
If harvesting the entire plant, it’s a good idea to cut the leaves off just above the roots and store them separately. This is because the leaves will continue to draw water from the roots post-harvest, causing them to dry out and shortening their storage life.
Carrot Top Pesto
- 2 cups packed fresh carrot tops (stems removed)
- 1/2 cup nuts (eg pine nuts, almonds or cashews)
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast for a vegan option)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- Wash the carrot tops thoroughly and remove any tough stems, keeping the tender leaves and smaller stems for the pesto.
- Toast the nuts lightly in a dry pan over medium heat until just browned. Set them aside to cool.
- In a food processor or blender, add the washed carrot tops, toasted nuts and peeled garlic cloves.
- Pulse the ingredients a few times to break them down.
- With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture becomes smooth and well combined. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides of the container to ensure everything gets blended evenly.
- Add the grated Parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast) and fresh lemon juice to the mixture. Blend again until all the ingredients are fully incorporated.
- Taste the pesto and season with salt and pepper to your liking. Adjust the lemon juice, garlic and other ingredients to taste.
- Transfer the carrot top pesto to a clean jar or airtight container. If you don't plan to use it immediately, you can add a thin layer of olive oil to the container to help preserve the pesto’s vibrant colour. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze it in jars or ice cube trays for later use.
- Toss pesto with your favourite cooked pasta and garnish with additional grated Parmesan cheese and a few carrot top leaves.
- Spread it on crackers or toast for a light lunch.
- Use it as a dip for vegetable sticks or grissini.
- Serve on steamed or roasted carrots to double up the carrot flavour.
Now you have a use for your homegrown carrot leaves: delicious and sustainable carrot top pesto!