Tearing off and tossing (or composting) the greens on a bunch of carrots is practically a reflex for most of us. It was for me until recently, when I discovered that carrot greens are more than edible – they’re downright tasty, and nutritious, too.

With an intensely carrot-y flavor and aroma, carrot greens possess the pleasant earthy bitterness common for leafy greens but with a feathery texture that feels like an herb. Nutritionally, they’re rich in vitamin A, potassium and health-protective plant compounds. To keep them, remove them from the carrots and store separately, in a bag in the refrigerator, as you would other greens. If you keep them attached, the leaves will draw moisture and nutrients from the root and the carrots themselves will not last as long. (That’s one reason they are often removed at the grocery store.)

You can use carrot greens as you would parsley or cilantro, sprinkling them on a dish as a garnish, or tossing them in salads or salsas; or you can cook them as you would beet greens or kale, sauteed with garlic and oil and a splash of vinegar.

For this recipe, I turned a whole head of carrot tops into a lovely, lemony pesto, using the same core ingredients as a classic basil pesto, and including fresh basil leaves to add a layer of sweet, floral essence to balance the earthy flavor of the carrot greens.

Use it like you would any pesto, to toss with pasta, spread on sandwiches or toasts, or to drizzle over cooked potatoes, eggs, chicken breast and so on. It’s a sauce that makes the most of an excellent ingredient that has been at your fingertips all along, just waiting to be discovered rather than discarded.

Carrot Top Pesto Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post

Carrot Top Pesto

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10 minutes

6 to 8 servings; about 1 1/4 cups

Don’t toss those carrot tops! They are as tasty and nutritious as other greens and can be used in the same way – to garnish dishes, sprinkle in salads or for sautes and sauces. Here, they are the base of a lovely, lemony pesto which also includes basil leaves for a layer of sweet, floral essence to balance the earthy flavor of the carrot greens. Use it like you would any pesto: toss with pasta, spread on sandwiches or toasts, or drizzle over cooked potatoes, eggs, chicken breast, and so on.

Storage Notes: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

INGREDIENTS

1/3 cup pine nuts

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2 small cloves garlic, peeled

4 cups lightly packed, well washed and dried carrot top greens (from 1 1-pound bunch of carrots)

1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, plus more as needed (see NOTE)

1/3 cup (1 ounce) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon water

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1/2 teaspoon fine salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS

In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, toast the pine nuts, shaking the pan frequently, until fragrant and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool slightly.

In a food processor, process the pine nuts with garlic until minced. Add the carrot tops, basil, cheese, lemon juice, water, salt and pepper and process until finely minced. With the machine running, slowly pour the oil in a steady stream through the feed tube and process until well blended.

NOTE: If your bunch of carrots yields less than 4 cups of greens, add as much basil as you need to get a total of 5 cups of greens.

Nutrition information per serving (2 to 3 tablespoons), based on 8 | Calories: 197; Total Fat: 19 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 3 mg; Sodium: 219 mg; Carbohydrates: 3 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 1 g; Protein: 3 g


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