Lots of plants, it turns out, have a couple of ways to reproduce themselves. I suppose it’s so that if one way to procreate fails, there is a back-up system.
Garlic, for example, makes the familiar bulb with multiple cloves that we use in cooking. It also sets a flower which makes bulbils — miniature bulbs — that could be planted to make lots more garlic. While the plant is busy making bulbils, though, the main bulb below ground won’t develop very well, and since that’s the item we are most interested in, gardeners trim off the flower stalk, called a scape.
Scapes are beautiful and useful in cooking. Typically they shoot up then wind around in a loop with a triangular shaped bud with a long beak. They are dramatic in an arrangement, even if they exude garlic smell. The flavor is a good deal milder than a clove of garlic, and the tender parts can be chopped and added to stir fry with other vegetables for pasta or rice, or in place of garlic cooked up with onions, celery, and carrots for a soup or sauce base.
I’ve used scapes to make a savory jam for appetizers with soft cheese. I’ve merely whirled them up in a blender with olive oil and frozen the result to use in place of garlic cloves when I’ve run out of them. I can make, for example, garlic butter out of ground-up scapes.
You can blend them with more traditional pesto ingredients such as basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil to make scape pesto.
Pine nuts, you may have observed, are pricey little numbers, and make a wonderful smooth pesto. Over the years we have substituted other nuts for pine nuts, and I read recently that even raw pumpkin seeds will work, requiring a little more olive oil because they are drier than pine nuts, walnuts or pecans, all of which I have used with success.
A jar of pesto in the fridge gives you a chance to create a pop of flavor in lots of dishes, not to mention serving up a fragrant pile of pasta with pesto and cream and extra Parmesan grated on top. To make a practically instant dip, pesto stirred into mayonnaise or sour cream is delicious and pretty, great for crudites. I’ve swirled pesto into both hot and cold cream of tomato soup. I’ve spread a little pesto under the skin of chicken breast and thighs before roasting them in the oven. Very useful and tasty stuff, pesto.
If you aren’t growing your own garlic, you might find scapes at a farmer’s market or farm stand. It’s a short season, because growers need to trim them off to ensure good bulb development. In these parts, the early-middle weeks of July, right now, is the time to grab your scapes.
Garlic Scape Pesto
Makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups
1 bunch garlic scapes (about 16 scapes)
4-5 stems parsley
2/3 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup hulled pumpkin seeds, or pine nuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 to 1 cup olive oil, or more to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Trim the fibrous stems and beaks of the scape, and chop coarsely. Strip the leaves off the parsley and basil and put the chopped scapes, parsley and basil into a food processor.
Add your choice of nuts or seeds and process all until fine.
Add the grated cheese, and pouring slowly while the processor is running, add the olive oil, stopping when it becomes a paste, more or less to taste.
Sample and add salt and pepper to taste.
Use right away or pack in a small jar and keep in fridge until use.