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Basil & Garlic Scape Pesto

May 27, 2011

Hm. What are these crazy, curly tentacles that have been showing up at farmers’ markets the last week or so? You may have even received some in your CSA bag.

Whatever you do, don’t throw them out: these stalky peculiarities are a garden delicacy, available for only a short period in late Spring. In NYC, chefs roll out of bed mighty early to make sure they’re first in line at the greenmarkets to snag these once-a-year treats.

Meet the garlic scape.

Garlic scapes are the central stalk produced by hardneck garlic varieties. This stalk contains the seed head, and if left to its own devices, will flower. Scapes are removed, however, to divert the growth efforts from the seed head back to the bulb to produce the hearty, juicy cloves we know and love.

Unlike onion flower stalks, which shoot straight up, garlic scapes tend to curl and corkscrew, creating all manner of interesting shapes.

In normal growing seasons, scapes do not appear until June; however, our crazy Midwestern weather this year accelerated the growth of over-wintered crops, like garlic, and scapes are available now in some regions. This is a photo of one of my hardneck garlic gardens earlier this week. I have a lot of scapes to use up!

Garlic scapes have a slightly milder flavor than the bulb of the plant from which it derived (e.g., if you’re growing a strong, hot garlic, your scape will still be hot, just less so). Use them in recipes as you would a scallion: slice them up and add them to salads, sauté them with other vegetables, add them to a stir fry.

My favorite use, however, is in pesto. Pesto can be easily frozen, providing a taste of June any time of the year.

Lovely, fresh basil is abundant and a natural addition to this pesto. If you’ve never grown your own basil, I encourage you to pick up a starter plant at your local nursery and give it a try. You’ll never go back to store-bought again.

Freshly grated cheese and pine nuts round out this simple, delicious concoction. Here, I used Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is my favorite cheese of all time. Except for Asiago. And French feta. And burrata. And smoked gouda. And anything made by Cabot.

Not a fan of pine nuts? Try chopped walnuts or almonds instead.

Pesto purists will tell you the only way to prepare authentic pesto is with a mortar and pestle. I heartily agree. Except when I’m pressed for time. Or lazy. Then I’ll heartily disagree, and declare that a food processor is the only way to go.

To store in freezer or fridge, a thin olive oil barrier will protect the ingredients from oxidation, which discolors the basil and accelerates spoilage.

Serving suggestions: – Spoon over steaming pasta.
– Heat in a pan with a little heavy cream mixed in, and serve over grilled chicken breasts.
– Place in a bowl and serve with crusty bread for dipping.

– Nosh directly from the mortar with a spoon. Not that I never do that. No, sir. {*cough*}.

Basil & Garlic Scape Pesto
2 cups basil, leaves only, washed and dried
3   garlic scapes, seed heads removed, stalks coarsely chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly roasted
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup loosely packed Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
A few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Special tools: Pounding the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle produces the best texture and the most traditional-tasting pesto, but you can use a food processor.

Toast the pine nuts lightly in a pan over medium-low heat. Stir frequently. When the nuts begin to turn golden, remove to a plate to cool.

If using a food processor, place the basil and scapes in the bowl and process until finely ground and/or paste-y. Slowly drizzle in the oil until emulsified. Add salt and pine nuts and process until a thick paste forms. Add the cheese and pulse until mixed into the pesto. If desired, add additional olive oil to achieve a thinner consistency.

If using a mortar and pestle, add the basil leaves first with the pinch of salt and pound until the leaves have noticeably started to break up. Add the chopped garlic scapes and continue. Incorporate the pine nuts and cheese, grinding until you reach your preferred texture (if you like chunky pesto, stop when there’s an equal amount of paste and chunks. If you like it smooth, keep going!) Add oil in small amounts to help achieve the correct texture.

To store, move contents to a sealable container, large enough to leave a little head room above the pesto. Level out the pesto in the container and pour a thin layer of olive oil to cover. Seal, and refrigerate. (To use, just mix the oil into the pesto and proceed.) Theoretically, the pest will last several days. But don’t count on any being left that long to confirm the claim.

  1. May 27, 2011 10:06 am

    This looks so yummy and easy to make! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  2. May 27, 2011 11:58 am

    I’ve never heard of scape before, but now I’m longing to get my hands on some. Like a scallion, but tastes like mild garlic . . . YES! I want one in my omelette, and in my stir fry, and in my everything.
    I’m going to making pesto soon and I can’t wait!!

  3. May 27, 2011 8:01 pm

    Heeellllloooo spring! It’s nice to finally meet you 🙂
    There is nothing wrong with shovelling spoonfulls in your mouth. Nope. I think it helps with the cleanup?

  4. Phyllis Ryan permalink
    May 28, 2011 8:21 am

    Where were you when we had a garden and probably had scapes that we just let go to seed cause we didn’t know any better. I love pesto and make it eachyear. This looks great, but I will have to hunt up the scapes.

  5. habanerogal permalink
    May 29, 2011 10:03 pm

    What a great way to enjoy all the parts of the garlic plant PS great to have a new post have missed reading you

  6. Susan Becker permalink
    May 31, 2011 3:59 pm

    I second that! 🙂

  7. Nancy permalink
    May 31, 2011 10:12 pm

    I third that. Welcome back – love your blog!

  8. June 2, 2011 3:53 pm

    I am a fiend for pesto! I thought I had made every possible combination, but no I haven’t! I haven’t made this combo. If I can find garlic scape, I will certainly give this a whirl (no pun intended)…

  9. June 21, 2011 2:29 pm

    I have just a few garlic scapes left, really need to try this.

  10. foxflat permalink
    July 23, 2011 7:33 pm

    just gave it a try last night – super yummy!


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