Radish Leaf Pesto

Last spring feels like quite a while ago, when I (and we) were all wondering about our food supplies running out, rediscovering things in our jumbled pantries and packed-to-the-gills freezers, and also being a lot more conscious of food waste. On the other hand, it’s hard to use everything up. But I did my best.

I’m the kind of person who finds a 1-inch (3cm) cube of pesto lurking in the back of the freezer, then goes out and spend time at the market shopping for the vegetables, then comes home to wash and chop them up, while the beans are soaking to make soupe au pistou. Then I realize I forgot to buy more basil because I only have a little cube of pesto (or more accurately, pistou) and it’s not enough, so I head back out to buy more basil, cooling my heels in line behind madame, who is requesting that the vendor show her each oignon and carotte for careful examination before she buys it. When all is said and done, and the soup has been served that evening, I find myself with a little bit of leftover pesto when all is said and done, which goes back into the freezer. And the cycle begins again.

It’s a noble cause to use everything you can. Every peach pit can be used to flavor ice cream or liqueur, every orange peel can be candied, and every radish leaf can be the soup du jour. Sometimes people tell me they freeze things like fruit slices, cakes, tarts, whey, bones, and what-have-you, and I’m insanely jealous of their copious freezer space. Mine is always packed. There were some brief moments during the lockdown where there was some space in mine, as I rifled through it to valiantly use things up. But now I can barely shut the door again.

Romain’s parents were very frugal and if you have older parents, or grandparents, they’re often especially frugal with food, attributing their thrift to the war…which ended in 1945, seventy-five years ago. I remember my grandmother didn’t ever want to throw anything away and once I decided to do something about it and went on a tear, cleaning out her kitchen cabinets, and she was reluctant to let me toss out the bulging cans of vegetables that were in the back, that still had the 21¢ price stickers on them, hand-stamped in purple ink, if you’re old enough to remember those.

I think about her, and Romain’s parents, every time I chop off and toss radish leaves, which are always sold attached to the radishes in France. I buy at least three bunches of radishes a week (we are both major radish-eaters) and I already have three or four full-time jobs, so can’t add ‘radish leaf-processor’ to my CV or resumé, but when the leaves are organic and I have the time, I do like to use them.

This pesto is so simple to make that you don’t have to worry about spending the afternoon making it, or cleaning up afterward. I use a food processor but you can use a blender instead. (Unlike basil leaves, radish leaves are quite firm so a mortar and pestle would require a lot more muscle.) Just add everything to the machine, and blitz away. Within a few minutes, you’ll have a beautiful jar of bright-green radish leaf pesto, which is great spread on crackers or toasts for an appetizer, or tossed with noodles and vegetables, like peas, broccoli, or green beans, for a vibrant bowl of pasta. But if you can’t use it right away, yes, it can be frozen…if you have the space.

Radish Leaf Pesto
Print Recipe
1 cup (250g)
I strongly recommend using radish leaves that are organic or unsprayed. Radish leaves can harbor a lot of grit so you may need to wash them in several changes of water, until no grit remains, as I do. If you like garlic, use 3 cloves of garlic rather than 2. If you don't have a food processor you can also make this in a blender. You'll need to stop the blender a few times to scrape down the sides. However you make it, be careful not to over-puree it; I like it best when it's a little chunky and a blender can easily make it too smooth. This recipe makes enough to sauce 3-4 portions of pasta. You can easily double the recipe if you have a lot of radish leaves on hand and freeze leftovers. In addition to a sauce for pasta, it can be used a spread on crackers toasted for an appetizer, as part of a sandwich, spread with goat cheese, avocado, or roasted vegetables, or a dip for raw vegetables, such as carrots, fennel, celery, kohlrabi, and beets.
8 cups (140g) loosely packed radish leaves, preferably organic (well-washed)
2-3 medium cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1-2 tablespoons, or more, if necessary
1/2 cup (45g) grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup (30g) whole almonds, unroasted, coarsely chopped, or 3 tablespoons untoasted pine nuts (30g)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1. Coarsely chop the radish leaves and put them in the bowl of a food processor along with the garlic, 1/4 cup of olive oil, Parmesan, almonds or pinenuts, and salt.
2. Pulse the ingredients in the food processor, stopping to scrape down the sides, if necessary, until the ingredients come together in a cohesive paste. If needed, add 1 or 2 tablespoons or more olive oil, unless it's a smooth, moist paste

Serving tip: If tossing with warm pasta, you may want to add a good pour of olive oil (or a few spoonfuls of the starchy pasta cooking water) after stirring in the pesto if the pasta seems dry. (Radish leaves can soak up a lot of oil.)


Radish Leaf Pesto

Never miss a post!

52 comments

  • Pamela
    September 4, 2020 11:53am

    David

    I would love to try this. It sounds like so much fun! It sounds so good. Thank you for sharing this delightful recipe.

    I have always wondered why we Americans measure leaves in cups, how on earth do we do that?? I usually skip recipes that call for so may cups of some green leaf. Do I pack them in, do I let lots of air fill them up?? Thank goodness you have the grams. Now I can do that as I live in Japan and we measure everything in grams or mm.

    It would be a wonderful blog Entry to show how people are supposed to measure green leaves in a cup…. I’d love to see that….Just for fun! Reply

    • Bob Knudson
      September 4, 2020 4:18pm

      Yes, I have seen some pesto recipes which call for “firmly packed basil,” and others which call for “loosely packed.” This is kind of confusing, because there is a big difference between the two. Reply

    • September 4, 2020 5:15pm
      David Lebovitz

      I can’t answer for other people who write recipes but I always include the weight for that reason. Reply

      • Irene Kempa
        September 5, 2020 11:45am

        That’s the perfect way! As a big fan and user of your excellent recipes I really appreciate your use of both imperial and metric measurements (metric in Australia) which takes the guess work out of recipes. Reply

    • Christie
      September 6, 2020 7:36pm

      I think “loosely packed” just means put the greens into a measuring cup and pack them a little but not too much. These types of recipes don’t need completely exact amounts in my experience. Reply

  • September 4, 2020 12:03pm

    I love radishes and just bought a bunch from my market yesterday and was wondering what to do with the leaves. Usually I put them in a soup, but I love a pesto, so will try this. Just finished my Soupe au Pistou, so will have with pasta tonight. Reply

  • Caro
    September 4, 2020 12:13pm

    Hi David, I’ve been growing a lot of radishes in pots this summer – so easy! They’re ready in about 3 weeks from sowing and it’s such fun watching the shoots appear and develop. The young leaves are delicious in salads but I hadn’t thought of pesto. If you have a sunny windowsill or balcony, I really recommend it! Reply

    • k
      September 5, 2020 1:41am

      what size pot do you grow them in? Reply

  • Sally
    September 4, 2020 12:23pm

    David,
    In response to your previous post, my “bling bling” dermatologist in Singapore prescribed and sold Daylong Face 50+ Sensitive Gel-Fluid by Galderma (Swiss) but I found it in my local French pharmacy. There are many different types of sunscreen lotions, but I like the GEL-FLUID for my face.
    I also think the radish leaf pesto sounds interesting! Reply

    • September 4, 2020 1:31pm
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks for the tip. I use La Roche-Posay crème solaire fluide face cream which is excellent but like the Galderma, it’s not waterproof. Reply

  • Iva Wilcox
    September 4, 2020 12:26pm

    I was thrilled to see this recipe as I have been making something very similar for several years now! Our farmers market in Florida sold the most beautiful radishes with equally beautiful leaves and I just couldn’t waste them. Doing a little research, I found I could use them in a pesto which I have been doing ever since – organic leaves only. I am not keen on raw garlic so I omit that. Instead, I add several marinated artichoke hearts and a small amount of preserved lemon. That pop of lemon and the saltiness brightens it. Most goes on crackers in my house, but I love putting some away in the freezer to enjoy another day. Best thing too is it doesn’t turn dark like basil after freezing. Being a dedicated fan, I love getting your emails and recipes and have made many of them! Thank you for validating my culinary adventures in being frugal. Reply

  • AD
    September 4, 2020 12:30pm

    Glad to see you back for the rentrée…! Reply

  • Catherine Mundy
    September 4, 2020 1:01pm

    Alright. I will do it. We also eat maybe a bunch of radish a week. Always from the farmers market so the leaves are good. But I am also always too busy up become a radish leaf processor. I will use a little of my precious stock of Italian pine nuts (kept in the freezer). Thank you. Reply

  • Gavrielle
    September 4, 2020 1:59pm

    One benefit at least from having my freezer stuffed to bursting is that everything freezes better, I’ve discovered. Just as well as after our second lockdown in Auckland I’ve decided my freezer will remain stuffed for the duration. Thank you for that delicious-looking photo – pasta, peas, parmesan and pesto is now on next week’s menu. Reply

    • September 4, 2020 2:43pm
      David Lebovitz

      yes, that true – a full freezer does hold in the temperature better…which is one of my excuses for overstuffing it ;) Reply

  • lamassu
    September 4, 2020 2:07pm

    I’m so reminded of my grandmother!
    She lived not only through both wars but also through the great depression between
    + from watching her when I was a little girl I learned to use a lot of things-
    she collected all the apples which fell from the trees during summer for example + made the best dishes from them
    + when plucking the hens (my grandfather was the one to slay them)
    she had different boxes for the different kinds of feathers depending on how to use them later.
    When going out in the garden or to her hens she wore not only one apron but another, coarser one over it to protect the “good” one.

    There were also tales of using the leaves of beetroot + carrots too
    but I can’t remember that. Reply

  • Vicki
    September 4, 2020 2:23pm

    I feel so guilty tossing radish leaves and love pesto so this is a double win! My grandmother was the same way and referred to tiny bits of leftovers as “dabs”. They were a unique and strong generation who we could learn much from. I miss her so much. Reply

  • September 4, 2020 2:31pm

    David, especially love this post! My freezers are always packed too! I’m on a mission to use things up and I do EXACTLY that. Save some scrap and then shop a whole bunch to turn it into something wonderful ending up with leftover something that goes back into the freezer! I also adore radishes and use the greens in salads and pastas and they are really good in Thai Summer Rolls… but I find they only keep a day or so and pesto a wonderful idea! Thank you! Reply

    • Heid Husnak
      September 4, 2020 6:37pm

      Such easy and quick growers. I sprinkle an entire packet of seed into a half barrel garden. I leave some to mature and others I snip the leaves at whatever stage I want. They keep growing. Reply

  • Michelle
    September 4, 2020 3:05pm

    Oh how marvellous. I have planted some radish seeds and I can’t wait to try it if they grow. We are in lockdown here in Melbourne Australia -only allowed out for an hours exercise a day within 5 km of our home and are in week 25 of working from home. Still being much more conscious of not wasting anything. I just excavated 4cm of something helpfully labelled NOT PESTO from my freezer. I have a vague recollection of having some rocket pistachios and garlic I needed to not waste. In March. But it could be a little Zhoug I didn’t want to waste. Will defrost and be surprised. Have loved a vicarious summer holiday via your blog and instagram. Thank you Reply

  • Claire
    September 4, 2020 3:53pm

    This sounds SO good! We are also big radish eaters and it always bothered me to throw out the lovely green leaves but I had no idea what to do with them. Now I do!

    I would also like to say that I’ve been reading your blog for 10+ years and, while I love your recipes and have made many, what I like most are your slices of everyday life in the city I’ve visited every spring (until this year) for 8 years. And your visits to brocantes! And although I do not drink, your daily apero hours have kept me sane during this most difficult time. And Romain is indeed as adorable as I imagined!

    Also love your books and have many.

    Thank you
    Claire Reply

    • Christie
      September 6, 2020 7:42pm

      Me too… I like the recipes but mostly I love David’s blog because he talks about life. Reply

  • Craig Rodgerson
    September 4, 2020 3:53pm

    Where did you find fresh basil? I wandered the 5th for 2 hours one Friday evening searching for the elusive herb. Reply

    • September 4, 2020 5:18pm
      David Lebovitz

      A couple of the vendors at the Popincourt market in the 11th have it, but the bunches aren’t very large. Reply

  • Bob Knudson
    September 4, 2020 4:27pm

    The pine nuts in the photo are really huge!…..much larger than the ones I buy at my local supermarket in the USA.

    Some pesto recipes call for toasting the nuts and others say untoasted. Does it really matter? Reply

    • September 4, 2020 5:17pm
      David Lebovitz

      They’re Italian pine nuts which are larger than the Chinese ones, which is stubbier. I don’t eat them because I once got Pine Nut Syndrome so I avoid them. I don’t toast them for pesto because it dries them out a little and I like the have as much of the nut oil as possible. Reply

  • Kathleen O'Neill
    September 4, 2020 5:26pm

    Thank you for your generosity is sharing all your wonderful recipes. They are a true inspiration for me. I knew there was something delicious to make with radish leaves! I always look forward to your newsletter. Please continue. Reply

  • PF
    September 4, 2020 5:48pm

    A great all-purpose green sauce. I don’t eat many radishes, but I make a similar food processor pesto with arugula or kale. Also I use walnuts, which I usually have in the house. Reply

  • Barbara
    September 4, 2020 5:55pm

    Hi David – love your work – in your Sep Newsletter, you refer to Yellow Jackets as bees – please do not – wasps are true aggressive pests – and bees are our pollinating friends who only ever sting is self defense – they die after stinging. Thanks from a honey bee keeper :) Reply

  • Kathleen
    September 4, 2020 6:51pm

    Had to laugh about our insecurities in March about food shortages. The first time my husband went to the grocery in March he came home with a quart of half and half for our coffee! I knew it would go bad before we could use it up, so now I have a gallon bag of Half and half cubes in the freezer that I don’t know what to do with. They will probably get thrown away next year, unless I make a ton of creamed soup this winter. Thanks for getting us through Spring and Summer with your blog and IG live. Also loving Drinking French. I’ve made notations next to drink recipes so I can remember details and substitutions. Still having a hard time finding certain liqueurs.❤️ Reply

  • Chris
    September 4, 2020 8:13pm

    I love the spirit of this post. My mother was obsessively frugal. Honestly? It caused a lot of problems in our family. However, I still find myself scaping that ‘last bean’, that bit of mayo or whatever before the container is tossed. Cooking shows are the worst! There was a quarter cup of batter left in the bowl! At least I’m not obsessive! LOL. Reply

  • David
    September 4, 2020 9:19pm

    I’m from England, and yes, I remember the purple ink prices stamped onto goods. In shillings and pence (12 pence makes one shilling, 20 shillings to the pound).

    In my case, in the internet-forgotten “Imperial Stores”, which was opposite the “International Stores” used the purple ink stamps. Both “supermarkets” now long extinct.

    Back to this post and I’ve seen a Radish leaf pesto elsewhere, but forget where. But someone suggested any bagged leaf salad approaching end of useful life should be sent into a pesto, which seems a great idea, Reply

  • Valerie
    September 4, 2020 9:51pm

    David, I loved this post. Your anecdote about the dab of pesto reminds me of the well-loved children’s story, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” Reply

  • Nancy Cohn
    September 5, 2020 12:20am

    My husband thought me a little strange last night when I was making beet green pesto as the gorgeous rainbow chioggias roasted. Then he had it slathered on the corn from our local farmers market and stopped smirking. When I showed him your post today he suggested we get some radishes…

    Missed our annual two months in vaison la romaine this year but your blog and ig makes me feel a little less sad. Stay safe. Reply

    • September 5, 2020 10:02am
      David Lebovitz

      I have a friend who goes to the markets in Paris and asks for the beet greens from vendors, since the vendors cut them off before people buy the beets (so they take up less room in their shopping baskets) but she liked to saute them and use the greens for other things! Reply

  • Linda
    September 5, 2020 1:40am

    What a beautiful little jar! Where can I get one of those and what kind is it? Reply

    • September 5, 2020 10:00am
      David Lebovitz

      It’s a vintage French jam jar. I pick them up at flea markets when I see ’em Reply

  • k
    September 5, 2020 1:43am

    But is it as good as pesto made with basil?!?!?!?!??! Reply

    • September 5, 2020 10:00am
      David Lebovitz

      It’s different, of course, but 1) We don’t get generous bunches of basil in Paris and 2) This uses something one might ordinarily toss, plus you can make it year ’round! :) Reply

    • amanda
      September 6, 2020 6:48pm

      We made this last night and decided that we might even like it better than basil pesto. But also wondering if basil+radish leaves would be the ultimate in flavor explosion. Reply

      • September 6, 2020 7:13pm
        David Lebovitz

        Yes, I’ve sometimes mixed the two. Works well! Reply

  • Louise
    September 5, 2020 4:16am

    I grew radishes and will use the greens. I’ve been making natsturtium pesto and scallion pesto and loving them. This I will try! Thanks. Reply

  • Joy Clenet
    September 5, 2020 12:55pm

    My Mom always used the beet tops. She would cut the green leaves from the stems. Then she would fry up some bacon and when it was crispy, she would removed the bacon leaving the fat in the pan. Then she would sauté the cut up stems until tender and then add the cut up leaves, that were still damp from washing then. She steamed them just until wilted. She served it with the bacon crumpled on top. I make it to this day and love it!! No waste! Thank you David for being you and keeping all of us x-pats feeling connected and inspired!! Reply

  • Laura
    September 5, 2020 2:42pm

    Hi, David, I didn’t respond to your survey but I want to let you know that I really enjoy your blog. I use it to live vicariously and enjoy everything you share – especially travel stories mixed with food. I don’t know if you still do food tours through Paris, but I enjoy hearing about where you go and what you enjoyed at different spots. Though I may get to come back, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to visit all of the same spots.
    Thanks for doing what you do and allowing me a peek into what it would be like to live in Paris. Reply

  • Shell
    September 5, 2020 10:27pm

    You’re right when you say radish leaves are firmer than basil. When I grew them I tried to eat the leaves, especially the younger ones but they always felt too scratchy. I definitely want to try this. Reply

  • Terry Sauer
    September 6, 2020 2:18am

    I bought French radishes at the Farmers Market this morning ( in 95 degree heat at 9 am) so i can try this. I love the radish leaf soup recipe, so am guessing this will be lovely as well. Reply

  • Em
    September 6, 2020 2:46am

    Did not think of using radish leaves as pesto! Many Indians use the radish leaves as spinach with legumes; saute in olive oil with garlic, add cooked legumes. Reply

  • Christie
    September 6, 2020 7:46pm

    I look forward to trying this recipe as soon as my newly-planted radishes are ready. I have thrown out so many beautiful radish leaves but now know what to do with them. I like the idea of green beans and peas in the pasta too… a bowl of green. Reply

  • September 6, 2020 11:55pm

    Just yesterday I watched my wife cut the leaves from a bundle of radishes and toss them away. After reading this I sent a link to the post to her computer. Reply

  • Susan Goldberg
    September 8, 2020 12:40am

    My dad used to buy cases of tuna fish when it was on sale for .29/can. Our cellar in CT was stocked with canned goods. My parents also had two deep freezers. We never ran out of anything. Here in Brooklyn, I’m still trying to shop and cook more wisely since the virus seems to be with us for who knows how long. You and Romain stay safe/healthy. Reply

  • Susan Renee Hennings
    September 15, 2020 12:49am

    I often use pumpkin seeds in my pesto. Less expensive and good taste with a little crunch. Sometimes I use miso instead of parm or romano cheese. Reply

  • September 15, 2020 6:15pm

    Hi David,
    Thanks for the gorgeous recipe, I’m always looking for ways to use things up. Until your radish pesto recipe came along I only used radish leaves for smoothies, which turns boring and uninspired after a while (how many smoothies can one drink in a day?!?).

    I made the pesto today, it turned out delicious. Mine featured also lemon juice and 2 small red chili peppers.
    Cheers,
    Ramona Reply

Leave a comment