One of the things that has arrived in particular abundance at the markets these days are the tangled and tossled piles of bright green garlic scapes.
Scapes are leafless little flower stalks produced by the hard-neck garlic plant, which curl and twist their way up above the earth in gorgeous, smooth, green stalks that are about as thick as a pencil, and are snipped off before they have a chance to bloom.
Though it seems like cruel and unusual punishment to swoop in and snip these pretty curly things before they have a chance to blossom, that is actually exactly what most farmers do – to encourage the energy of the plant to be focused into producing a fat and hardy garlic bulb, versus funneling its energy into making useless flowers on scapes that often go straight to the compost bin.
These tendril like growths smell ever so faintly of garlic, but if you bite into one you are struck by a strong garlic flavor that sneaks up fast and packs all of the punch of the regular kind, but with a pleasant fresh, grassy undertone. Though they look innocent, they are actually quite potent, and I like them best whizzed and whirred up into a pesto that can be used in all manner of preparations.
In this pesto, scapes take the place of regular garlic and basil, as they lend both a garlicky bite and fresh herbal notes at the same time. Instead of pine nuts, walnuts are spun in with the spicy stalks, giving the sauce a lovely body and creaminess that is only slightly less delicate than you’d have with the finer bodied (and waaaay more expensive) pine nuts. Rather than adding any Parmesan, I just like a healthy smattering of lemon zest; not only will the pesto keep longer in the fridge, but this way it allows for all of the freshness of the scapes to shine through on their own.
(And makes it suitable for those who don’t eat dairy – something a majority of pestos can’t say.)
The end result is bracingly strong but fresh and delicious – you can use it almost anywhere you would a regular pesto, but I love to showcase it in simple dishes where you can really taste its fresh and unique flavor.
We had this most recently stirred into a spring vegetable skillet (recipe to come), and it works equally well in toasty sandwiches, pastas, with melted mozzarella or soft goat cheese, and even stirred into softened butter for a garlic bread that will blow your literal mind.
It feels rather industrious to use up something that would otherwise be lopped off its subterranean roots and tossed straight into the compost – though after making this pesto you’ll see why that notion in itself is a shame. The scapes aren’t sticking around long – their season is quick, and they’ll only be at the markets for a few more weeks now, and this healthy sauce is the perfect way to easily embrace them.
….One last word to the wise –
Don’t be planning on any hanky panky after eating this….mmmkay?? I can say with confidence that your kissing days are over – or at least suspended for awhile – after coming within a foot of this pesto.
And you’re totally covered in the vampire department, while we’re at it.
Garlic Scape and Walnut Pesto
Makes about 2 cups
~8-10 garlic scapes, roughly chopped
1 cup walnuts, toasted
zest of one lemon
1/2 tsp salt, plus additional to taste
1/2 cup olive oil, plus additional as necessary
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the chopped garlic scapes 4-5 times with the lemon zest and salt, just to break the garlic scapes up a bit. Add in the toasted walnuts and half of the olive oil, and process until the mixture is smooth, drizzling the rest of the olive oil into the top as the mixture processes. After you have added the 1/2 cup of olive oil check the consistency – the pesto should be smooth and unctuous looking, and not dry looking or flaky. If necessary, add olive oil a Tablespoon at a time until you have the right texture.
Taste pesto (be careful, it will be strong!), and adjust salt levels if necessary. Use however you would pesto – get creative with it!
Some ideas on how to use it:
-In a panini, with sliced turkey and fresh mozzarella
-Heat in a pan, then add cream; reduce, and use as a sauce for pasta
-On crostini topped with goat cheese and fresh tomatoes
-Stirred into fresh vegetables sauteing in a skillet
-Stirred into a turkey burger mixture (before forming patties)
-Mixed into softened butter and used for an incredible garlic bread