I try to limit food waste wherever possible, so I purchase my root vegetables intact – with their greens still attached – and use those as well. This pesto features the feathery green fronds that comprise carrot tops, along with some Italian flat leaf parsley. Pine nuts are pretty traditional in pesto, but I’ve always loved paring sunflower seeds with carrots so I opted to use them here. They’re lightly toasted to enhance their sweet, nutty flavor, and pair beautifully with the other components of this quick and delicious condiment. In addition to the greens and sunflower seeds we’ve got garlic,fresh lemon juice and zest, salt, pepper, and freshly grated aged cheese. If you’d like to keep your pesto vegan/dairy-free you can easily substitute a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast. Just be sure to add a little extra salt to account for the omission of the cheese.
Have you ever made pesto before and had it turn a sludgy, unappetizing brown color within minutes or hours of making it? You can blame the lemon juice for that, because the acid oxidizes your beautiful green herbs. It’s not a permanent fix, but blanching the greens briefly in salted boiling water followed by a plunge into an ice bath will set the vibrant color and stave off that dreaded browning for a while longer. In this case it also helps tame the slight bitterness or grassy flavor you can get with carrot tops, so I recommend it. Be sure to wring out all the excess moisture so your pesto isn’t watery.
Those are some happy, vibrant carrot tops! They only take a minute or so to chill in the ice bath, at which point you can pick over them to fish out any browned or damaged leaves before draining the water. I like to wring them out by squeezing them as hard as I can in my hands – you end up with a compact ball of greens that you can roughly chop before putting them in the food processor along with the other ingredients.
Now all you have to do is blitz everything in the food processor. Take note, I like my pesto with a little texture so this may not be as runny as you’re accustomed to seeing. If you prefer a wetter, more liquid pesto, feel free to increase the olive oil and lemon juice. If you don’t want to throw off the balance of flavors you can even loosen it up with a little room temperature water.
- 1 medium garlic clove (about half the size of your thumbnail), coarsely chopped
- 15 ml (1 Tbsp) fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp grated lemon zest
- 36 g (¼ cup) sunflower seeds, toasted and cooled
- 1 ½ cups tightly packed carrot top fronds, blanched, shocked, drained and coarsely chopped
- ½ cup tightly packed flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- Kosher salt
- 120 ml (½ cup) extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 oz freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino* (¼ to ⅓ cup depending on grater)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Add garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, sunflower seeds, carrot tops, parsley and a generous pinch of salt to bowl of food processor. Lock the lid in place, turn on the processor, and drizzle in the olive oil through the feed tube. Add grated cheese (or nutritional yeast) and 2-3 grinds of black pepper, and pulse to incorporate. Taste for seasoning and add salt as desired. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.