It's at this time of year that I tend to make pesto out of almost anything fresh, green, and leafy – not just herbs, but beet greens, radish tops, spinach... you name it. So when Carl Legge tweeted brief details of a version that he'd made from carrot tops, I felt compelled to try it for myself.
But since I have a kitchen filled with Kentish ingredients, the challenge of tweaking Carl's recipe to make a more local version also tickled my fancy. And, of course, its adaptability is in any case part of pesto's appeal. Ask a hundred Italians, and you will hear a hundred different methods of making the stuff!
I also decided to keep the carrot tops raw in order to harness as much of their essence as possible. Together with the sweet cob nuts, rapeseed oil, and tangy Lord of the Hundreds cheese (which tastes somewhere between Parmesan and pecorino, and is made in East Sussex), my version makes for a fragrant and wonderfully flavoursome pesto, which captures all the goodness of summer's carrots.
Carrot top and cob nut pesto ingredients
(I give inexact quantities quite deliberately. For me, pesto is all about playing with your ingredients until you achieve the flavour and texture you prefer.)
- A large handful of fresh, well-washed carrot tops (about 100g) – they need to be as fresh as possible, as older tops will introduce an unwelcome bitterness
- A handful of shelled cob nuts (about 50 – 75g)
- About 75g or so of Lord of the Hundreds, or any cheese similar to Parmesan or pecorino
- As much rapeseed oil as you need for your preferred consistency – probably 150ml or so
- Half a garlic clove
- Sea salt and black pepper
- Roughly chop the carrot tops and garlic, and put them in a food processor together with the cob nuts, cheese, oil, and seasoning. (Note – if you want a more toasted flavour to the pesto, pre-roast the nuts for about 20 mins in the oven at about 160C, or by 'frying' them in a pan on the hob for a few minutes. Watch them very carefully, though – once they start releasing their oils, they burn very quickly.)
- Pulse until you have pesto! As Carl says, be prepared to scrape down the processor every so often to ensure everything is properly blended. Taste as you go along and adjust the quantities of your ingredients to suit. You may also want to add a squirt of lemon juice at the end.
- If you don't use it immediately, spoon the pesto into a jar, and 'seal' it with a layer of more oil. This will stop the pesto deteriorating and will help it retain its colour.
Helen has a brilliant blog called A Kentish Kitchen - a kitchen rooted firmly in its surroundings, heritage, the odd nod to nostalgia.