Pici with Carrot Tops Pesto
When I was in my early twenties, I briefly shared a small flat in the beautiful city of Padua, in Northeast Italy, with a German lady. Her name was Helke, she was much older than me, and worked as a chef at one of the local restaurants.
We didn't have much of a rapport, she was working really long hours and probably thought (rightfully) that I was just an immature, noisy and messy young girl she had nothing in common with.
One thing I remember about her is that she would come home from the restaurant and cook for herself the exact same meal every day - pasta with butter-sautéed carrots.
Every. Single. Day.
Back then, I found it quite odd...why would a chef have such a bland and unimaginative meal every day?!? In my mind, I imagined a chef would cook the fanciest and most amazing meals at home. Now, I just think she was probably so exhausted that she couldn't be bothered to make anything more than that.
Anyways, as I was making this pasta, I remembered her and our little, run-down kitchen in Padua, with a small white lacquered gas hob, and an old wooden round table that sat right in the middle and was way too big for that tiny tiny kitchen.
I used pici - a thick, hand-rolled spaghetti-like pasta from the province of Siena in Tuscany made from simply flour and water. The texture is very rough and perfectly holds the chunky pesto.
The pesto is made with carrot tops - something you should never throw away! You can sauté them with garlic for a delicious side dish, or make pesto or chimichurri or dry them and store them in a jar to season potatoes and other roasted veggies.
As I was thinking of my roommate Helke, I also decided to add some carrots, sautéed in a pan with butter, capers and lemon zest.
And let me tell you, this is definitely one of my favourite pesto recipes so far!
Ingredients (for 2)
200g of pici
100g carrot tops
50g basil leaves
100ml extra virgin olive oil
1 small clove of garlic
1 knob butter
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp capers in brine, rinsed
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt nad pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. Throw in the pici and cook for 2 minutes less than what indicated on the packaging.
In the meantime, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and add the carrots. Season with salt, pepper and sauté for 2 minutes. Then add capers and a few splashes of the pasta cooking water and continue to cook until they are soft, slightly browned, but still have a crunch.
Add the carrot tops, basil, pistachios and garlic to a blender. Start blending while adding the olive oil very slowly, alternating with a couple of spoons of pasta cooking water for creaminess.
When the pasta is nearly done, transfer it directly to the pan with the carrots using a slotted spoon. Add also the pesto and stir well. Top with the lemon zest before serving.