A Tale of 2 Pestos

Note: This is the second in a series about my family’s participation in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) Stop by every Wednesday for new recipes. This week’s installment is by the Rainbow Chaser and the Kale Queen.

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What do you do when you’re knee deep in kale? Make Florentine Pesto.

My younger sister Janet is the most resourceful cook I know.

When she got married in the early ’90s, she and her husband ate baked potatoes in various incarnations every night for a year to save money. I admired her discipline and resolve, making the most available (and inexpensive) ingredients to make ends meet.

She’s come a long way since her potato days. Today, she’s a mom of three and a teacher working on her Ph.D. Though often pressed for time, she loves to cook and bake on weekends. Drop by her house on a Sunday afternoon and she’s whipping up homemade granola or cutting a slice of crumb cake.

I’m always fascinated to hear what she’s doing with her CSA shares because nothing goes to waste. Today, she shares her recipe for Carrot-Top Pesto.


Carrot-Top Pesto and tomatoes are sensational on toasted crusty bread.


After three decades of cooking, my approach was pretty well set. I worked off recipes. If  I didn’t have all the ingredients, I abandoned the dish until I could source them. I bought the same produce every week, scrutinizing refrigerated, misting shelves in search of romaine, Boston bib, and spinach, eschewing rows of unfamiliar leafy greens. I only threw different veggies in the cart if I needed them for a new recipe. That’s how how I discovered Swiss chard. I felt reckless – and uncertain – when I bought the red variety. I wasn’t comfortable experimenting.

I love the idea of eating the rainbow. I believed I earned my stripes by filling my cart with more volume from the produce department than any other. I had green covered, yellow from zucchini and my RO BIV from the fruits and berries that are so familiar and sweet. I was content with my approach to vegetables when I learned that my sister the Kale Queen was getting pesticide-free vegetables from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Since I’m the thrifty type, I was eager to join the CSA. I didn’t really care about what I got. I just wanted in.

I joined the CSA 14 months ago, and my weekly share has had a profound effect on the way I cook and eat every day. Many people complain about CSA’s because they don’t pick the produce in their share, but I’ve found this to be the biggest boon. Relinquishing control boosts my creativity in the kitchen, expands my palate, and increases my knowledge of vegetables. I have a rutabaga on my counter – I Googled images to figure out what it is, and I’m eager to try it. I hadn’t eaten a beet since the 5th grade and now I love tossing them in salads.

I feel like I live on a farm with my weekly bounty.  I eat what’s in season and sometimes there’s more than my family can consume in a week. Of course, that’s why pickling and canning were developed, but I’ve never done these things until now. I just pickled my first carrots. I had a few weeks’ worth, so I took the plunge. Speaking of carrots, I finally realized that those gorgeous greens on top are not food waste – they make a delicious pesto. I make pesto on Sundays, hours after my share is delivered. I make it very quickly, and it’s a huge relief to have it on hand to top broiled salmon, toss in pasta or combine with tomatoes to crown crusty bread. It has a fresh zip that’s a bit different from typical pesto.

The following is my adaptation of a recipe that appeared in the Sept. 26, 2016 issue of Time:


2 cups carrot tops

3 tbs. walnuts, pistachios or almonds

½ cup of fresh basil

2 garlic cloves

¾ cup olive oil

¼ cup Parmesan

Blend ingredients in a food processor, adding more salt or olive oil as needed.

Can be frozen for up to six months.

Note: I omit the Parmesan. I adjust the amount of nuts – usually adding more. I only add salt to taste after blended.

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Maybe the best use of kale yet: Pesto.


We’re waist high in kale. One of my favorite ways to use kale is in pesto. I first had kale pesto in Florence, Italy.  We stayed in a great bed and breakfast and decided to try the small osteria downstairs.  We were intrigued by the pasta of the day.  When I asked about the ingredients, our waitress endearingly told me that it was, as we Americans would call it, “black cabbage.” That stumped us: we had never heard of black cabbage.  We ordered it anyway and it was simple and delicious. Afterwards, I searched online for black cabbage to no avail.  I searched for the ingredients and, I hoped, a recipe, by describing the region where we ate it in Italy and some basic descriptive terms. Bingo: Food & Wine had a recipe for Tuscan kale pesto.  I tried it and it pretty much duplicates our dish. As I gathered my kale last night, I decided I’ll make this recipe once a week until we can see our feet in the kale patch.


  Yield: 1 and ½ cups

 pound kale

½ cup olive oil

1 clove garlic

1 lb pasta (spaghetti or linguine)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the kale.  Cook for 7 minutes.  Lift out with strainer and drain in colander.  Add the drained kale, olive oil, garlic and 1 tsp kosher or sea salt to the bowl of a food processor.  Process until relatively smooth.  Add pasta to remaining boiling water in pot and cook according to directions on box until al dente.  Drain, reserving ½ cup water.  Add pasta back to large pot and toss with pesto, adding reserved water to achieve desired consistency.  Serve in large bowls topped with freshly grated pepper and Parmesan or Romano cheese if desired. Grilled chicken and a glass of Trebbiano D’Abruzzo are great accompaniments.

Note: This recipe originally appeared in Food & Wine.


4 thoughts on “A Tale of 2 Pestos

  1. Yummy. The carott top and tomatoes on crusty bread is a variation on bruschetta, one of my favorite appetizers. We make ours with tomatoes, basil, oil, balsamic vinegar, and lots of Parmesan. Sorry, Janet, but I love Parmesan Reggiano. To each his own. But I’d like to try it with your carrot tops. Did you really eat nothing but potatoes for dinner for a year? You and your husband are to be much admired.

    As for Her Highness, the Florentine kale pesto sounds great also. If it’s a pasta dish, I’m loving it. My nickname in Sicily was Johnny Pasta.

    Liked by 1 person

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