Carrot and Cumin Pesto

Carrot and Cumin Pesto
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A great meal -- from almost nothing!
A great meal — from almost nothing!

The refrigerator is nearly bare.

We like to eat up most of our fresh food before leaving on vacation. Not that we think it’ll go completely bad while we’re gone; it’s just that fresh food tastes better, so why leave it sitting around for a week when you don’t have to? So, for a few days before we leave, we try to clear out the fridge.

Of course, that means when we come back our fridge looks like this:

mostly empty refrigerator
We looked in the cupboard, but the cupboard was bare, almost. That doesn’t stop scratchers, though.

Empty. Well, there are a couple of carrots, half of a lemon, some eggs, and Parmesan cheese. In other words, plenty to make a great meal! Really. We’ll tell and show you how we did it. First, using an egg, we whipped up a batch of fresh pasta. Simple and tasty, but we wanted some sort of topping for the pasta. Of course, Parmesan, black pepper, and olive oil would be good, but we came up with the idea for this Carrot and Cumin Pesto to mix in with the hot pasta. You, of course, can use this pesto any place you normally use pesto. Just remind everyone that not all pesto is made with basil (or is even green).

Carrot and Cumin Pesto

Yield: 1 cup

Carrot and Cumin Pesto


  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/3 cup (40g) walnuts
  • 1/2 clove garlic
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1/3 cup (40 g) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper

Abbreviated Instructions

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast cumin seeds, stirring often, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Place toasted cumin seeds in the bowl of a food processor and let cool.

Toast walnuts in the skillet over medium heat until golden and toasted, about 8 minutes. Place walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and let cool.

Add garlic, carrot pieces, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese to food processor and pulse several times to grind into a paste. With processor running, slowly add olive oil.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, taste, and season with salt and pepper.

Ingredient discussion:

pesto ingredients
Yep, we’ll make an entire meal for two from just these meager ingredients. It’s fast, too!

Two things stand out: the Parmesan and the olive oil. These will add most of the flavor to your pesto, so use good cheese and oil. We make sure to use either Italian Grana Pardano or Parmigiano Reggiano that we grate ourselves. And, in case you didn’t know it, most commercial brands of extra-virgin olive oil aren’t extra-virgin (and sometimes not olive oil). Just give your oil a taste — yep, take a sip, straight; if it has enough flavor to make you cough or your eyes water, you’re good to go. Otherwise, your olive oil isn’t extra-virgin.

Procedure in detail:

Toast cumin seeds. Place a small skillet over medium heat. When hot, add cumin seeds and toast, stirring often, until they’re fragrant, about 5 minutes. Watch them, because you don’t want them to burn (very easy to do), and, when they’re ready, pour them into the bowl of a food processor and let cool.

toasting walnuts
We use a little cast iron skillet for toasting small amounts of spices or nuts. It’s fast, and doesn’t heat the kitchen the way the oven would.

Toast walnuts. In the same skillet over medium heat, toast the walnut pieces, stirring or shaking often, until golden and fragrant, about 8 minutes. We toast these separately from the cumin seeds because they take a bit longer. And, we toast both to bring out more flavor. Once toasted, place in the bowl of the food processor and let cool (so the cheese won’t melt, of course).

ready to chop and grind
Once everything is in the processor, pulse a few times, then start adding olive oil.

Combine and pulse. Once the nuts are cool, add the garlic, carrot pieces, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese, and give the processor a few good pulses to chop and grind everything into a paste. If needed, scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add oil. With the processor running, pour in the olive oil. The pesto will probably ride up on the blade. Nothing to worry about.

carrot pesto
We let our pesto meld in the refrigerator for about an hour before using.

Taste and season. Scrape down the bowl, and give the pesto a taste. Add salt and pepper as needed, pulsing to combine. Store in an airtight container.

Serve. We had this pesto stirred into freshly-made pasta, but you can also use it as a spread, or any place you might use pesto.

Wow! Who would have guessed that two carrots, some walnuts, and a bit of cheese could make a great lunch! We really liked this pesto — sure, it wasn’t green and basil-ly — but you can make pesto from just about anything (pesto simply means pounded, no specific ingredients necessary), so you might as well get experimenting and come up with new, tasty versions of your own. Ours, we’ll say, is a four starrer.

Worth the trouble?

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