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This vibrant, veggie-filled carrot pasta sauce is an absolute ode to springtime. Using carrots as a base for a creamy sauce and their bright green tops for a flavorful pesto, it's a delicious healthier take on mac and cheese that the whole family will love. It's easy to make, ready in under 30 minutes, and extra sauce can be frozen for easy weeknight dinners!
This is a great meal for those days when you want something comforting and hearty but also a little lighter. The creamy alternative to a tomato-based sauce is a healthier take on traditional mac and cheese. It's perfect for making in the spring when you start to see carrots with their tops at the farmer's markets.
If you've ever wondered what to do with those vibrant green carrot tops, this recipe is a good place to start. The greens are completely edible and nutritious and here they're used in a pesto that marries perfectly with the cheesy flavor of carrot pasta sauce. And if your carrots don't have lovely greens, parsley makes a great substitute.
How to make carrot pasta sauce
This vegetable-filled carrot pasta sauce is simple to make by following a few easy steps:
- Start by cooking the pasta until al dente. Drain it, return it to the pot, and toss it with a bit of olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.
- Make the pesto. Combine all pesto ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.
- Make the pasta sauce. Saute the vegetables then add in the broth; cover to steam them until soft.
- Add the softened veggies to a high speed blender along with the remaining sauce ingredients. Blend on high until smooth, adding water to thin as needed.
- Pour the sauce over the cooked noodles and mix well. To serve, top the carrot sauce pasta with the carrot top pesto. Enjoy!
Ingredients for the carrot pasta sauce
To make the carrot pasta sauce, here's what you'll need:
- Pasta – choose your favorite short shaped pasta!
- Olive oil – any variety of extra-virgin olive oil will keep the pasta from sticking together.
- Carrots (and their tops) – look for them at the farmer's market with their vibrant green tops attached. No need to peel them; just give them a good scrub. Their skin is high in nutrients and fiber. Don't toss the tops! Reserve them for the pesto.
- Garlic + onion – these add flavor.
- Vegetable or chicken stock – choose vegetable stock to make this dish vegetarian.
- Cream cheese – gives the sauce its delicious creamy texture.
- Parmesan cheese – adds richness and flavor to the sauce.
- Sea salt – enhances the overall flavor.
- Pepper and chili flakes – adds a bit of warmth (or feel free to omit).
Choosing a pasta
There are so many varieties of short-shaped pasta to choose from. The one used in the pictures is called spinners, but any shape that holds sauce well will work. Try fusilli, rotini, orecchiette, farfalle, shells, or elbow macaroni. Or if unique pasta shapes are available in your grocery store, look for wagon wheels, radiatore, or gemelli.
For added nutrition, choose whole wheat, ancient grain pasta. You can also make this recipe gluten-free by using your favorite gluten-free pasta or choosing lentil or chickpea-based pasta.
How to use carrot top greens
Carrot top greens are actually really versatile and are delicious raw or cooked. Their unique flavor can be compared to a slightly sweeter, earthier parsley. The pesto sauce used in this recipe is based on our carrot top pesto recipe. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when working with carrot top greens:
- Cut them off and store them separately. If you're not using them right away, chop them from the carrots right away to keep them fresh. Wrap them in a piece of paper towel and store them in your crisper until you're ready to use them.
- Wash and dry before using. Since carrots grow in dirt, make sure to give them a good wash. Dry them in a sala spinner or shake them thoroughly over the sink so they don't become soggy.
- Use the leaves, remove tough stems. The tough stems are too fibrous to use in this recipe. Remove the tender leaves from the stems. You can discard the stems or freeze them along with other vegetable scraps for making stocks and broths.
If you don't have enough carrot tops or can't find them, use parsley instead. Alternatively, use store-bought pesto.
How long does the carrot pasta sauce last?
This sauce will stay fresh in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Can I freeze the carrot pasta sauce?
Absolutely! The texture may become a bit grainier after being frozen but leftovers keep well in the freezer for up to 3 months. Try using a silicone ice cube mold for freezing individual servings.
Can I use a different type of nut for the pesto?
You can use pine nuts or walnuts in place of cashews.
How do I make this vegetarian?
Simply use vegetable stock instead of chicken to make this a vegetarian meal. Note: some vegetarians do not eat parmesan cheese so you may want to omit this and add a little additional salt instead.
What to serve with this creamy carrot pasta
While you can easily serve this pasta as a complete meal, it's always fun to add a few sides. You can serve this creamy pasta dish alongside sweet sautéed radishes or roasted asparagus for a delicious springtime meal.
Or turn the pasta into a side by serving it with one of these delicious mains:
- 12 ounces pasta (choose your favorite short shaped pasta. Gluten-free, if needed)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (plus extra for the pasta)
- 6 medium carrots
- 4 cloves garlic (chopped)
- 1 large onion (chopped)
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (divided)
- ½ cup cream cheese (can be light)
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (plus more to taste)
- 1 pinch pepper and chili flakes
Carrot Top Pesto
- 1 cup carrot top greens (see notes)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons toasted cashews
- 2 tablespoons parmesan
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 small garlic
- 1 pinch sea salt
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta then return it to the pot and toss it with a little olive oil.12 ounces pasta
- While the water is heating, prepare the rest of the meal. Add the carrot top pesto ingredients to your food processor and blend on high until mostly smooth. Add 1-2 tablespoons of water, if needed, to thin the pesto.1 cup carrot top greens, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons toasted cashews, 2 tablespoons parmesan, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 small garlic, 1 pinch sea salt
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, garlic, and onion and saute for 5 minutes. Add ½ cup of the chicken stock and steam until the carrots are soft and the liquid has evaporated.1 tablespoon olive oil, 6 medium carrots, 4 cloves garlic, 1 large onion
- Transfer the veggies to your blender then add 1 cup of the chicken stock, cream cheese, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and chili flakes and blend on high until smooth. If needed, add extra chicken stock (up to ½ cup) to thin the sauce. Taste the sauce and season with extra salt, if needed.½ cup cream cheese, ½ cup grated parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1 pinch pepper and chili flakes
- Pour the sauce over the cooked pasta in the pot and mix well. Serve the pasta with some of the carrot top pesto over the top.
We have thoroughly tested this recipe for accuracy. However, individual results may vary. See our full recipe disclosure here.