One of the many wonderful things about shopping at the farmers market is that it inspires me to try new things. I’m generally a rather adventurous eater, but the grocery store is so overrun with familiar products that I hardly notice the unfamiliar ones. Faced with the comparatively small number of in-season selections at the farmers market, the unusual and unfamiliar catch my eye. Chances are there’s someone at the stand who can advise me on how to use whatever I pick up, and if I forget to ask, there’s a wealth of information online.
Among my culinary firsts this spring are garlic scapes. A garlic scape is the stalk part that grows up from the garlic bulb, which is developing underground. Apparently the stalk is cropped off in the spring so that all of the plant’s efforts can be concentrated into growing the garlic bulb itself. It’s baffling to me that I’ve never seen garlic scapes in the supermarket. I mean, a garlic plant is a 2-for-1 deal, so why isn’t anyone taking advantage of it? My confusion was only compounded when I actually tasted the scapes.
Garlic scapes are milder than mature garlic. Every bite is infused with that wonderful garlicky flavor, but it won’t jump out and bite you if you get too close. Chopped and pan-fried garlic scapes have the appearance and texture of cut green beans or cooked asparagus.
But the best way to enjoy these curly green curiosities? Pesto!
Garlic scapes with a touch of basil and lemon. It’s like a warm afternoon sun tempered by a cool spring breeze. Try it. You’ll see what I mean…
8 ounces pasta, fresh or dried
5 garlic scapes (about 3½ ounces/100g), plus 3-4 garlic scapes for garnish*
¼ cup almonds (1¼ ounces/35g)
small handful basil (½ ounce/14g)
½ cup freshly grated parmesan (1 ounce/28g)
½ teaspoon lemon zest
scant ½ cup olive oil
pinch of salt
*Note: Sautéed garlic scapes add additional texture to the final dish, but the pesto can be made without them.
Heat a dry skillet over medium heat. Toast almonds, tossing frequently, until lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Remove and discard bulb and top of garlic scapes. Chop five scapes into 1-inch pieces. In a food processor combine chopped garlic scapes, toasted almonds, basil, 6 tablespoons parmesan, lemon zest and olive oil. Process, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Stop before pesto becomes a smooth puree; it should still have a bit of texture.
For the garnish, heat a small amount of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cut remaining garlic scapes into 1-inch pieces. Add to skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until tender and well browned. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil. Salt well and cook pasta until al dente. Before draining, reserve ½ cup of cooking liquid.
Add pesto to the now-empty pot and stir in half of the reserved cooking liquid, adding more as needed until pesto resembles a thick sauce. Toss pasta with pesto over medium heat for 1-2 minutes.
Serve topped with sautéed garlic scapes and parmesan cheese.