Radish leaf pesto

RadishLeafPestoTitle © J Horak-Druiff 2014


Back in both 2012 and 2013 Two separate bodies did a bit of research to determine how much young people today know about where their food comes from.  The 2012 survey by the charity LEAF targeted 16-23 year-olds, while the 2013 survey by the British Nutrition Foundation looked at 5-16 year-olds.  What they uncovered was pretty depressing.  Almost a third of UK primary school pupils think cheese is made from plants;  and a quarter think fish fingers come from chicken or pigs.  Nearly 10 percent of secondary school pupils thinks tomatoes grow under ground.  In the older group, more than a third did not know bacon comes from pigs and 40 percent failed to link milk with an image of a dairy cow (7 percent even thought it was made from wheat!).  And before you think that British children are alone in this confusion, recent surveys in Australia found that 92 percent of the young people surveyed did not think that bananas grew on trees; but 27 percent did think that yoghurt grows on trees. 

I am pleased to say that most adults I know are aware of the provenance of fish fingers, bananas and yoghurt (!) – but I am still amazed on a regular basis at the checkout tills in supermarkets when I am buying fruit or vegetables and the person who has to key in the item’s code to get the correct price per weight turns to me blankly holding an aubergine and asks “is this a passion fruit?”.  It seems that we have become so used to being confronted by our food scrubbed clean of all traces of soil, trimmed of all unpopular bits and served up in a polystyrene tray, labelled with its name and barcode, that many of us struggle to tell the difference between a turnip and a Jerusalem artichoke when we are confronted by them fresh from the farm and covered in dirt.


Radishes © J Horak-Druiff 2014


Because you see, the thing is, vegetables don’t naturally present themselves blemish-free and dirt-free with all the difficult bits trimmed off. Grow your own and you will quickly come to realise that carrots come with masses of fine green foliage; broad beans  consist of more pod than bean – and are a pain to pod;  potatoes carry so much dirt with them you can easily clog your sink just trying to catch a glimpse of the tuber’s skin; and beetroot can be rather ungainly roots with bright red stalks and masses of red-veined leaves. And because we have become so used to buying our vegetables already cleaned and packaged, we have forgotten that some of the stuff that supermarkets routinely trim off and throw away is actually pretty good to eat – turnip greens, carrot greens and beet greens being the ones that spring immediately to mind.


RadishPesto3 © J Horak-Druiff 2014


When Nick first started his allotment last year, all the older allotment regulars were keen to offer advice and support – and he was also often the recipient of their crop surplusses.  One of the earliest crops of the summer is the radish, and quite soon after his arrival on the allotments a neighbour presented him with a lovely bunch of radishes.  Said neighbour was about to helpfully chop off the greens and toss them on the compost heap when Nick stopped him, knowing my penchant for cooking unusual bits and pieces.  Of course, he was right: although most people discard them, radish greens are an integral part of one of my favourite side dishes – braised radishes on their own garlicky greens – and Nick got into the habit of bringing me radishes with greens whenever he could.  But as this dish can be a little time-consuming I am always on the lookout of other things to do with radish greens, which is how I came across the idea of radish green pesto, and this recipe for it.


RadishPesto © J Horak-Druiff 2014


If you are growing your own radishes, try to harvest them young as the leaves get woodier and quite unpalatably prickly as they age.  Radish greens have a more bitter undertone when raw than, say, more traditional pesto greens like basil, so to take the edge off that you should substitute a sweeter nut rather than pine-nuts which can have an underlying bitterness of their own when untoasted.  I chose almonds, but you could also try pushing the boat out and using macadamia nuts.  As always with pesto, make sure the olive oil and the Parmesan are the best you can afford because you really do taste them in the final product.  The end result, as you see, is vibrantly green and the flavour is like basil pesto… but with more of a bite to it.  I served some of mine as canapés: on my favourite Peter’s Yard crispbreads topped with a slice of radish and some Parmesan shavings – perfect with a glass of dry white wine.  It’s also great with pasta or can be stored for up to a week in the fridge (or longer in the freezer).


RadishPesto2 © J Horak-Druiff 2014


If you enjoy slightly unusual pesto, have a look at what creations other pesto-loving bloggers have come up with:

My wild rocket pesto; David’s dandelion pesto; Nazima’s wild garlic & walnut pesto; Katie’s lemon & mint pesto; Elizabeth’s seaweed pesto; Urvashi’s nasturtium pesto; Helen’s pistachio pesto; Jen’s watercress, rocket, spinach and almond pesto; Becca’s sun-dried tomato and black olive pesto; Kellie’s sorrel & sunflower seed pesto; Sian’s spinach & walnut pesto;  and Jacqui’s cauliflower & pea pesto.


4.9 from 8 reviews
Radish leaf pesto
Prep time
Total time
Most people discard radish greens - but they are great for eating, especially in this tangy take on pesto.
Recipe type: Dips and sauces
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: makes about 350g of pesto
  • 2 cups radish leaves, washed with any woody stems removed
  • 35g grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup roasted unsalted almonds
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • 2-3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Place all items except for salt and pepper in a blender or food processor and pulse until the desired consistency is reached.  I like my pesto quite thick, so I start with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, knowing I can always add a third later if it is too thick (but it's much harder to fix a pesto that's too runny!).  As you can see, I also like my pesto quite chunky, but if you like it smoother, keep pulsing.
  2. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary. Store in the fridge in an airtight container, or freeze your pesto if you want to keep it for longer - it freezes beautifully.

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  1. says

    A very interesting and well written post. I remember over a decade ago the only time my my mother came to visit me in the UK I was chopping up garlic for that night’s dinner. She asked me, “What’s that?”. She’d no idea! I think things are changing over the generations, sometimes better, sometimes worse. My own children certainly know what garlic is, and how to pod broad beans (they love that job!) and where much of their food comes from (I hope!).

  2. says

    I do love homemade pesto, although I tend to use cashews in mine instead of pine nuts. It really changes the flavour.

    Radishes however are really underused in my kitchen, but at least I can identify them. What shocking results. There are lots of Farm to Fork initiatives here in Scotland, where children visit farms and cook with fresh produce. I can now see how invaluable that is.

  3. says

    Wow I would never have guessed…! what an interesting one.. I might try.

    Have you ever tried anything with carrot leaves? I buy them in bunches and they have so many leaves but they taste really bitter :)

  4. Sarah Pipilini says

    Hi LovePetal!

    Just a quick ruse to mention that ive tried many carrot tops!

    They are just as tangy and juicy when young but get crusty as they age!!

    Mixing and squeezing some nuts in definitely does improve the overall experience though!

    Especially on their crackers!!

    Love and kisses!!

  5. says

    Love Peter’s Yard Crisp breads. Great with cheese 😛
    They also just lend themselves to being photographed with their lovely textures.

    Will need to give this recipe a try, thanks Jeanne!

  6. says

    Radishes were the first crop I grew in my childhood garden but thought the leaves were prickly and inedible. So interested to taste radish leaf pesto – saving this for when the farmers market starts again.

  7. says

    I love this post Jeanne. I’ve tried hard to make sure Izzy knows where her food comes from, and she does, though her shouts of ‘Look! Dead pig’ in the bacon aisle in the supermarket can earn us some strange looks.

    I love the sound of the pesto. I like radishes but I don’t think I’ve ever used their tops before, I must rectify!

  8. says

    Fascinating statistics and a wonderful recipe. This summer in France I have been acutely aware of how “real” their fruits and veggies look (even in the supermarket) compared to our perfect versions and it’s just so refreshing to see things like radishes sold with their tops (and carrots too). The problem is that many people (me included) don’t know what to do with the weird bits and bobs – like any food-related issue, education is the way forward. I plan on incorporating some of these more unusual parts of the veggies in my cooking classes this year!

  9. says

    My kids always confuse chicken goujons with fish goujons. They prefer the latter so I only correct them after they’ve eaten. Bad mum! They always seem surprised when we tell them which animal various meats come from. I get loads of ooooohs!

  10. says

    I was just wishing this week for ideas of what to do with my bumper crop of radish greens, and here is your post!! :-) I’m so very thankful to live in the country now with such a close connection to the ground, to the food I eat.

  11. says

    And sometimes, when the weather doesn’t cooperate, one gets all tops and no radishes LOL.
    Interesting about the lack of knowledge among kids…. And apparently a lack of curiosity about what they eat….

  12. says

    You know I get the same from the cashier’s at the supermarket quite often too. Artichokes become green apples and papayas become pumpkins. My mum adds radish greens to her spinach or stuffs parathas with them so I have grown up learning to use them. I do not think I have ever made pesto out of the leaves though. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Jeanne says

      The mind boggles! You’d think there might be a basic produce identification course before you can work the checkout… but apparently not. Do try the pesto – I love its fresh taste!