Scapes, you ask? What am I talking about now? I am speaking of garlic scapes: the stem that supports the flower bud that develops on hardneck garlic in the spring. Maybe I need to backup a little and tell you a little about garlic.
Most of the garlic found in supermarket, especially here in the west, is the type known as softneck garlic. The cloves grow in an overlapping style, similar to an artichoke. When ripe it can be easily braided and stores very well. Most of this type of garlic is mild to moderate in flavor and widely available. This garlic grows well in the southern part of North America (including here in Baja).
The other type of garlic is known as hardneck garlic, a good description. The cloves are much fewer but larger than the cloves of softneck garlic, and grow in a single layer around a hard stem. This type of garlic can be quite hot to the bite when raw but mellows with cooking to a delicious flavor. The best growing area for this is in the northern part of North America. Undaunted, I do grow both types of garlic here in Baja with interesting results. Some grow well one year and others better in another year. I just keep the largest and healthiest cloves to replant the next fall. The rest goes into the cocina.
The hardneck type of garlic develops a central stem that grows tall and will eventually curl like a spring with a flower bud at the top. This slender stem is the garlic scape. Left to its own devices it would produce a cluster at the top, not of seeds but of tiny garlic bulbils, each only about an sixteenth of an inch in diameter. These tiny bulbils can be planted but take about two to three years to produce usable garlic. In addition, this process also saps the strength from the developing garlic cloves, leaving them soft and less tasty or useful. In a word, it is best to cut the scapes off to induce the garlic to make lovely big garlic bulbs.
That is what I did today, and this is what I harvested:
What to do with these? They make a wonderful, garlicy addition to stirfries. But I already have some frozen for that. I decided to make pesto with these. If you look closely at the photo above you can see a few scapes that are quite a bit thicker than the rest. Those are from some onions growing in the garden. I cut those too for the same reason I cut the garlic scapes. I will use some of them in my pesto, too.
The ingredients for my pesto are really simple. I used to be more of a purist in my cooking but like everything else, I have mellowed with age. There was a time that I would have had to use the traditional pine nuts for pesto but today I had some raw almonds in the refrigerator so I toasted a little more than a cupful in my oven:
I didn’t make them crisp; I just toasted them enough to make them begin to become fragrant. I wanted them to develop some nutty taste but not to be too hard. I guess I baked them for about ten minutes.
I used some wonderful semidry cheese from our local cheese makers. It is flavorful and fragrant. I guess any semidry cheese like parmesan or pecorino could be used. I just had this on hand.
Because I wanted the pesto to be more chopped and not too pasty, I would have loved to use a fine Italian mezzaluna, but I have done a lot of paring down of my kitchen tools so I don’t own one. Not being a purist anyway, I used my food processor. I put the almonds in first and chopped them coarsely; I didn’t want almond butter.
I used my best asparagus technique to decide how much of each scape to use. By that I mean I snapped the stalk just the way one does an asparagus stem. I used the more tender part in the processor. After snapping them, I used my kitchen shears to cut them into one to two inch pieces and tossed them into the food processor with the almonds. I gave them a quick buzz or two to chop them too. I cut the cheese into half inch cubes and tossed them into the processor and chopped them together.
This is where it gets tricky. The contents of the processor were crumbly. I didn’t want it too pasty so I added about a third of a cup each of water and olive oil. I wanted the flavor of the oil but not too much oiliness so I used an equal amount of plain water. I was very careful not to over process the mixture. Here is what it looks like:
It is creamy yet still retains the identity of the ingredients. To store it I packed one cupful into a canning jar and put a thin layer of olive oil over it to use this week. The rest, about three cups, I put into zip top quart bags and put them into the freezer (no added oil).
Here is the jar for this week:
And here is the recipe, as best as I can write it down. I am one of those a little of this and a little of that cooks….
Garlic Scape Pesto
1 large bunch of fresh garlic scapes
1 cup of raw whole almonds
7 ounces semidry cheese, like parmesan
1/3 cup of water
1/3 cup of good olive oil
Toast almonds lightly, pour into a food processor fitted with a sharp blade. Chop almonds coarsely. Break or cut tender part of the scapes into one to two inch pieces and add to the food processor. There should be maybe about a 1 1/2 cups. Chop coarsely.
Cut cheese into half inch cubes and add to food processor and chop until the contents are crumbly. While the processor is running pour in the water and the olive oil and process until slightly creamy yet the ingredients are still identifiable. A tablespoon of oil or water may be added to produce the preferred consistency.
Note: due to the saltiness of the cheese I used, I didn’t add any salt to my pesto but it is optional