If you don’t get out to the garden to thin your row of carrots right now you will end up with runty twisted results, carrots unsuitable for prizes at the county fair. I guess everybody who gardens knows that already, though I hope there are a few others, besides me, who don’t always get the job done.
A few years ago, my Texas friend Anne Marie Simmons gave me another reason to thin: carrot top pesto. We used to make the trip to San Antonio every spring to see her family, returning cocksure of the superiority of our oysters — theirs were from the Gulf of Mexico — and totally humbled by her vegetable garden. By March it had full-grown carrots in it, planted in January. And tomato seedlings in the ground.
I was wary, though, when Anne Marie started talking carrot top pesto. Weren’t the greens poisonous? That’s what I always thought. And wouldn’t they taste awful? They have a pungent smell, on the extreme end of the carrot aroma spectrum. She pulled up a colander full of young Chantenay carrots, the short fat ones, and headed inside, on a mission to show me a thing or two.
The greens are lacy and tend to grab hold of dirt. She shook them well, then rinsed them several times before putting them in the blender. Almonds instead of pine nuts would add substance and encourage the sweet side of the carrots to come out. Then olive oil, garlic, salt, good Parmesan.
She roasted the carrots whole and served them alongside spaghetti tossed with the pesto. At this first thinning mine were too miniature to roast, but nothing’s too small to eat, so I blasted them in a skillet with a little butter.
By “one big bunch of carrot tops” I mean maybe two cups in volume. This makes enough pesto for a pound of pasta — eight first-course servings. Leftover pesto will keep a few days in the fridge for smearing, with mayo, on sandwiches or stirring into a minestrone. Or freeze it.
Carrot Top Pesto
enough for 8 servings
One big bunch tender carrot tops
1/2 cup raw almonds
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp. kosher salt
A few grinds of black pepper
1 cup olive oil
2 oz. or about 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
The carrots, as a garnish
Cut the carrot tops off the carrots, leaving a half inch or so of greens on the carrots, for beauty.
Scrub the carrots, especially around the tops, where grit might hide. Peel the carrots only if the skin has thickened up — my tiny thinnings didn’t need it. Here’s the hardest step in this recipe: rinse the tops in a bowl of water, lifting them out and rinsing again until you’re not finding grit in the bowl when you pull the greens out.
Shake off the water and put the carrot tops in the blender. Add the almonds (no need to peel them), garlic, salt, black pepper, and about 3/4 of the olive oil.
Blend until fairly smooth. Stir in the cheese. Add the remaining oil if the pesto seems too thick. Taste and correct salt and pepper.
Toss with spaghetti. Serve with roasted carrots alongside. Or if carrots are too small to roast, just give them a quick sauté and throw them on top.