Got scapes? Make pesto!

Garlic scapes (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

Have you seen those long, curly, emerald green stalks with tightly closed buds at the Farmers’ Market? These are garlic scapes – and they’re delicious, tender and crunchy. They’re finest when only a few weeks old, and have just begun to curl and form buds. They should be about 12 – 18 inches long with a quarter inch diameter.

Garlic scapes (allium sativum) are still new to many Americans. Native to Iran and Central Asia, they have long been common in Chinese and Korean cookery, where they’re used as a spring vegetable and often stir-fried with pork or tofu. In China they’re known simply as garlic stems (suan tai in northern China; suan xin in the south).

With their delicate flavor, scapes are one of the best ways to obtain the health benefits of garlic, which include high levels of antioxidants and decreasing inflammation in the body. Even people who are not fond of garlic may like this milder version and thus benefit from the herb’s antifungal, antibacterial, anticancer and cardiovascular health properties. They’re a good source of Vitamins A and C as well as fiber.

They have many culinary uses and add wonderful flavor to vegetable and meat dishes. Chop them fine and add to salads, especially cucumber, tomato, potato or macaroni; they add crunch and a slight garlic flavor. Use as a topping for pizza or bruschetta. They’re great as a garnish for soups, and superb in almost any stir-fry. Use them in quiches, frittatas, omelets, and other egg dishes. They add a nice touch to potatoes or pasta. Cut them into one-inch lengths and cook as you would asparagus or green beans. However you serve them, let their flavor be the star of the show; don’t overpower them with chilies, other spices or heavy sauces.

If you have even a small garden, they’re easy to grow. In the fall, before the ground freezes, just put some garlic cloves in the ground. Buy them from a local farmer (not the supermarket) to make sure they’re hard neck garlic (not soft neck) and haven’t been treated with anything to prevent sprouting. They will start growing in the spring — just pull the weeds around them. You will see leaves and the stem. You must cut off flowering stems, or scapes, so the plant will focus its energy on growing the garlic bulb (root).

I have never seen them at the supermarket. If you don’t grow your own, you can buy scapes at the farmers’ market, Asian markets, and some natural food stores, in season. But the scape season is short – just a couple weeks at the beginning of summer. You can’t store them like you can the garlic bulbs. But the scapes’ mild garlic flavor is perfect for making pesto!

Sure, you can make pesto from any greens — even radish tops! But with the possible exception of basil, scapes make the best pesto ever.

Use scape pesto on pasta, crackers, or bread, or even as a topping for pizza. Pesto is great with shrimp, sugar snap peas or other crudites. You can use it with fish or chicken, or add to thicken and flavor soup. It’s wonderful spread on bread with a slice of tomato on top. A spoonful of bright tasting scape pesto on a hunk of bread is a great nibble with white wine.

When shopping, choose garlic stems that are green all over; even the flower buds should be green rather than yellow. If they’re beginning to yellow or brown, they have lost their tenderness and will be tough. Use your fingernail – if it goes easily into the bottom half of the stem, they’re still tender. At home, trim off the flower buds about half an inch down, where the stems start to turn dark green and discard. Test the bottom of the stem with a knife — when you begin to encounter resistance, cut it off and discard as it will be tough.

To store, wrap the stems in plastic and place in the fridge. You can also place them in water as you would cut flowers — after all, that is what they are.

Don’t wait! The season is short. Gather your garlic scapes while ye may. Fortunately, scape pesto is easily frozen.

Garlic Scape Pesto

Ingredients:

One dozen garlic scapes

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup pine nuts, walnuts, slivered almonds or sunflower seeds

1/4 to 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper (or to taste)

1/2 lemon

Directions:

Cut garlic scapes into 1 or 2 inch pieces. Place in bowl of food processor fitted with a steel blade.

Toast walnuts or sunflower seeds by heating in a dry skillet for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring, until fragrant.

Add to food processor.

Grate Parmesan cheese and add to food processor.

Process together until finely chopped.

With the processor running, slowly add the olive oil until you have a fairly thick paste (or your desired consistency). Add the salt and pepper. Squeeze in the lemon juice (be sure to catch the seeds; a sieve works). Process until mixed.

Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.

Makes about 1 cup of pesto.

Garlic Scape and Greens Pesto

Adding fresh greens dilutes the garlicky flavor of the pesto.

Ingredients:

3 or 4 garlic scapes (1/2 cup shopped)

1/2 cup coarsely torn, tightly packed greens: parsley, spinach, kale, turnip greens, even lettuce for a milder flavor

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup walnuts or sunflower seeds

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt (or more, to taste)

Directions:

Cut garlic scapes into one-inch lengths (you should have about a half-cup). Place scapes and greens in the bowl of a food processor with a steel blade, and chop until combined. Add the walnuts and Parmesan, and continue blending until somewhat smooth. With the processor running, add the oil in a slow stream until it is blended in. Taste and adjust, if desired. Refrigerate in a covered container. The pesto will keep in the refrigerator for about a week, and several months in the freezer.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook as Author

Yvona Fast.

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