Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Caprese Sandwiches with Carrot Top Pesto

I've recently been trying to be more conscious of how much food I waste, so I've been reading a lot about inventive ways to use scraps, bits of produce that would normally go in the garbage or the compost bin, etc. We waste an unbelievable amount of food in the U.S., and I'm definitely guilty of contributing to that, especially when I buy an ingredient for a specific dish and don't know what to do with the rest of the jar/bottle/etc. Eventually I'd like to start a page here where I can list tips I've found for reducing food waste, but in the meantime, I'll share this carrot top pesto recipe.

Did you know you could eat carrot tops? I had always subconsciously assumed that they were either inedible or unpleasant in taste, but not too long ago, I read about using them in salads or in place of herbs, which is where I saw the idea for carrot top pesto. Last time I went grocery shopping, I made sure my carrots still had their tops so I could try this out. First, I twisted off the carrot tops near the base where they meet the carrot, and gave them a good rinse. I then dried them on paper towels and removed the leaves from the stems once they were dry (I did discard the stems, since I don't have anywhere to compost, but I plan to do some poking around to see if there's anything else to do with those). I stored the tops the same way I store herbs: I folded them into a paper towel and sealed them in a ziploc bag.

After that, you're ready to go! The original author of this recipe blanched the carrot tops before making the pesto, but by the time I got around to making this I had forgotten about that step (it's not written explicitly in the original recipe). Mine tasted just fine, but blanching them may help to tone down the flavor of the greens. My suggestion would be to nibble on a bit of carrot top and see what you think! I did, and was surprised to find that they actually taste a lot like carrots (why this was surprising to me, I'm not sure). If you'd like a more muted flavor, go ahead and blanch them for a minute or two in boiling water, then revive under cold water and make the pesto. I swapped out the pine nuts in the original for sunflower seeds*, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the sunflower seed flavor really shone through. If that's not your thing, feel free to use another nut (e.g., the original pine nuts, or I think almonds would be great, too) or use a smaller amount of the sunflower seeds.

A final note on texture: mine turned out thick and very smooth, which I believe is because I balked at the amount of olive oil required (not because I think the flavor would be bad, but because I'm a grad student and olive oil is expensive - in my defense, I was making a double batch). I ended up using a fair bit less, and compensated by blending the absolute you-know-what out of it in my Ninja (the pesto was actually quite warm to the touch by the time I was done). If you have something a little less powerful, I'd suggest using the full amount of olive oil. You'll likely end up with something closer in texture to normal pesto.

Dramatic shot of the Sun rising on a loaf of bread

I chose to make some bread and put this on a sandwich to use up some of the fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes I had lying around, but feel free to use this anywhere you'd normally use pesto! Just please promise me that if you're making the sandwich and you don't have any tomatoes lying around already, go get some beautiful heirlooms while they're still in season. And one more request, if I may: if you aren't making this to take to work for lunch like I was, please put it in a panini press, or at least cook it grilled cheese style. Melty cheese > non-melty cheese any time.

* In truth, I made this substitution because I didn't have pine nuts, but I had plenty of sunflower seeds lying around.

Caprese Sandwiches with Carrot Top Pesto
Yield: Approx. 1 cup of pesto and 2 sandwiches
Adapted from Diane Morgan

Carrot Top Pesto
1 c carrot greens (I got about 2 cups from my bunch of carrots)
6 Tbsp olive oil
1 large garlic clove
1/4 tsp kosher or other coarse salt (if using salted sunflower seeds, use less and adjust to taste)
3 Tbsp sunflower seeds
1/4 c freshly grated Parmagiano Reggiano1
Caprese Sandwich
4 slices of good quality, fresh bread (I made my own, and the slices were probably a little smaller than regular sandwich bread)
4 Tbsp carrot top pesto
2-3 slices mozzarella cheese
10-12 cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced (or a few slices of heirloom or other large tomato)

  1. Pulverize the carrot greens, olive oil, garlic clove, and salt in a food processor or blender until everything is uniformly minced.
  2. Add the sunflower seeds to the mix and pulse until they are finely ground2.
  3. Dump in the parmesan and process until the cheese is ground up and everything comes together.
  4. Spread 1 Tbsp pesto on each slice of bread. On two of the slices, pile mozzarella and tomatoes, topping with the other two slices of bread.
  5. Enjoy!
  1. You can use any type of parmesan, but the nuttiness of Parmagiano Reggiano is really good here.
  2. Tailor how long you process the pesto to the texture you're looking for. For a more traditional pesto texture with small but visible chunks of nuts and cheese, pulse a few times, just until the seeds are broken up. For a smoother texture (see pictures above), blend more thoroughly.

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