This simple roast chicken with carrot top-kale pesto is paleo, gluten free, Whole 30 compliant, and just the thing for chilly weekends.
Meet my new favorite weekend tradition: simple roast chicken with carrot top-kale pesto.
The routine goes like this: buy a local, free-range chicken and some fresh produce on Friday, roast the chicken with root vegetables and blend the greens into a pesto on Saturday, and make homemade chicken stock on Sunday. (Of course, you can start the routine any day of the week–that’s just what works best for me since I’m at work all day Monday through Thursday.)
I’ve been carrying out this roast chicken tradition pretty much every other weekend. I love every part of the process: buying what I need at the farmers market, roasting the chicken and vegetables, preparing the pesto, making the broth, and of course, eating what I’ve made (and sometimes even sharing it).
Since moving down to Tennessee and joining a winter CSA from Big Sycamore Farm, I’ve become even more obsessed with cooking with local ingredients and trying all different kinds of vegetables. So when I got a gorgeous bunch of carrots with all their vibrant greens still attached, I was determined to use the tops. I knew I’d read about carrot top pesto somewhere, and a quick search reminded me that the recipe is from Diane Morgan’s cookbook Roots (and is also available online via Culinate).
(Keen observers may have noticed that there are no carrots in that skillet. Why not? They were too delicious raw! I’ve never been a big fan of carrot sticks, but since these carrots were adorably tiny and from a local farm I decided to try a bite of the first one I peeled. I was so shocked by how much I liked it that I wanted to eat them all as they were, and decided to instead roast vegetables that couldn’t be eaten raw. That being said, if you want to roast the carrots that came with your carrot tops, do it! They’re great that way, too.)
I set off to make a paleo, dairy-free version of Diane Morgan’s carrot top pesto. It was really easy to do. The only dairy included in traditional pesto is parmigiano reggiano, and I find that a few extra pine nuts and a little more salt easily compensate for the lack of cheese.
I also snuck in some kale–it makes the pesto even greener and adds an extra punch of nutrition. The feathery carrot tops taste kind of like a sweeter, milder parsley, which means they balance out the slightly bitter kale really well. And overall, the pesto tastes a lot like spring. If you hate cold weather like I do, I think you’ll appreciate the freshness of its flavor. It’s a nice reminder that despite the impending winter, spring is never really that far away :).
The great news for anyone who’s currently running low on carrot tops is that they’re easily replaced by basil and/or cilantro. I love to use cilantro because it’s my favorite herb ever, but if you hate it or want something closer to traditional pesto, use basil. If you’re torn or have both, use half and half.
Since the pesto is so flavorful, I kept the roast chicken super simple. If you’re looking for some dressed-up roast chicken recipes, check out these recipes from my cookbook Paleo Planet: Roast Chicken with Za’atar & Yogurt Sauce (page 92) and Peruvian Roast Chicken (page 94). If you’re looking for more pesto, check out this roasted cauliflower with creamy cilantro pesto. And if you’re looking for a way to use up extra pesto, try a pesto frittata.
Happy weekend, everyone. I hope you get a chance to roast something!
Do you have a favorite kind of pesto or another unique use for carrot tops? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
- 4 cups chopped root vegetables and/or winter squash*
- White and light green parts of one bunch of scallions (about 8), sliced (reserve the dark green parts for the pesto)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- One 4-pound chicken
- 1 tablespoon melted ghee or avocado oil
- 1½ teaspoons sea salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 2-3 lemons or limes, halved
- Take the chicken out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you plan to cook it. Preheat the oven to 450° F.
- Put the chopped vegetables in a lightly greased 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet and top with the sliced white and light green scallions, reserving the darker green parts for the pesto.
- Mix the melted ghee, sea salt, and pepper in a small bowl.
- Remove the giblets from the chicken and save for another use or discard. Pat the chicken dry and rub the seasoned ghee all over it, carefully loosening the skin a bit on the breast and thighs and slipping some ghee under there, too. Stuff the halved lemons inside the cavity. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine, place the chicken breast side up on top of the vegetables, and tuck the wings underneath.
- Roast the chicken at 450° F for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400° and continue to roast for 30-40 more minutes, until a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 165°. While the chicken is roasting, prepare the pesto (see recipe below).
- Carefully transfer the chicken to a cutting board (I put the handle of a wooden spoon inside the cavity to help pick up the chicken and move it) and let it rest for 10 minutes. If desired, drain any excess fat from the pan with the vegetables, season them with a little salt and pepper, and return them to the oven (which should be off) to keep warm.
- Carve the chicken and serve hot with the vegetables and pesto.
You can make this roast chicken even simpler by omitting the vegetables. The roasting time may be slightly less.
- 1.5 cups lightly packed carrot tops (tough stems removed), coarsely chopped*
- Dark green parts of 1 bunch scallions (about 8), chopped
- 2 large (or 4 small) kale leaves (stems removed), torn into pieces
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
- ½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
- ⅓ cup toasted pine nuts (or almonds)**
- 1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice, or to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Make sure the carrot tops, scallions, and kale have been thoroughly washed and dried (I put them all in my salad spinner, rinse them a couple of times, and then spin them dry.)
- Put the greens, ½ cup of olive oil, and ½ teaspoon sea salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for a minute or so until well combined.
- Add the pine nuts and 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and pulse a few more times until the nuts are incorporated. If you'd like a thinner pesto, add more olive oil in a slow, steady stream with the food processor running (I like to add 3-4 tablespoons).
- Taste the pesto and add salt, lemon juice, and/or freshly ground black pepper if desired.
**To toast pine nuts, place them in a dry skillet over medium-low to medium heat and toss frequently until they're lightly browned (3-5 minutes). Don't turn your back on them, and take them off the heat right away once they're golden.
Extra pesto will keep in the fridge for a few days. Put it in a bowl or jar, smooth out the top, and pour a thin layer of olive oil on to protect it from the air.
I've also frozen this pesto (but only for two weeks because I was so excited to use it in a pesto frittata). I scooped tablespoons of it onto a parchment-lined plate, put the plate in the freezer until the pesto dollops were frozen, and then transferred them into a zip-top bag. I defrosted the pesto in the microwave. The frittata came out great!
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