Garlic Scape Pesto

Like so many of us who are thrilled at the start of the growing season, I seem to be on a foods-that-come-and-go-in-a-flash kick. First it was asparagus, now it’s garlic scapes (which last longer than asparagus – thank goodness!).

The first day I learned about garlic scapes was a perfect day to be at a local farmers’ market — it was sunny and warm, a top-down on a convertible day, and everyone who’d hibernated for the winter was out. With all the hugging and kissing, the exclaiming over how children had grown and the exchange of a year’s worth of news, it reminded me of the first day of summer camp. And even though my mother will tell you that I was a complaining camper, I did like that first day.

Of course, since this was New England, a start-of-market is not a full and colorful one. There were beautiful lettuces, chard and kale, a spot of color, courtesy of the first batch of strawberries, which sold out almost instantly, and these, the find of the market: garlic scapes from Hidden Brook Gardens in Ledyard, CT.

Scapes are the wild and curly shoots that spring from the tops of garlic plants. They’re brilliantly green, can be thick or thin, curved or corkscrewed, and, depending on how they’re cut, just long or very long. They’ve got a mild garlic fragrance and a mellow garlic flavor. Smell the cut end or snap one and the scent will be a cross between garlic and summer grass. It’s got a freshness that garlic loses as it develops.

The scapes, which look as beautiful in the garden as they do at the market, are meant to be cut — cutting them strengthens the garlic bulbs that are growing underground — so it’s a win-win for the garlic and us, the cooks. Although scapes needn’t be cooked, if you do cook them, you should cook them lightly, maybe in a quick stir-fry.

I think you get the most from garlic scapes by using them raw. They’re terrific chopped or very thinly sliced added to a tuna or chicken salad, stirred into hot rice or scattered over a salad, the way you might scatter sliced scallions or an herb.

And they’re wonderful as the base of a chunky pesto, which is how I used them the first night I had them. I was going to put the pesto over quickly grilled scallops, but it seemed to cry out for pasta, so it got stirred into penne. At least the part that was left after my husband stopped dipping bread into it got mixed with the pasta. But he had the right idea — because the pesto is chunky and so bright tasting, a spoonful on a hunk of bread makes a really good nibble with white wine.

garlic scape pesto

If you’re lucky the scape moment will coincide with the availability of ripe tomatoes – they’re stupendous together – but you can always make them coincide: Garlic scape pesto is freezable!  Ditto the fresh-from-the-garden scapes.

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Garlic Scape and Almond Pesto

Makes about 1 cup
  • 10 garlic scapes, finely chopped
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan (to taste and texture)
  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds (you could toast them lightly, if you’d like)
  • About 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Sea salt

Put the scapes, 1/3 cup of the cheese, almonds and half the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor (or use a blender or a mortar and pestle). Whir to chop and blend all the ingredients and then add the remainder of the oil and, if you want, more cheese. If you like the texture, stop; if you’d like it a little thinner, add some more oil. Season with salt.

If you’re not going to use the pesto immediately, press a piece of plastic against the surface to keep it from oxidizing. The pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days or packed airtight and frozen for a couple of months, by which time tomatoes should be at their juciest.