Garlic Scape Pesto Recipe
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If you’ve ever grown your own garlic, you might have noticed the spiral-shaped shoots that suddenly pop up in the centre of the stem, usually about a month or so before the garlic bulbs themselves are ready to be harvested. Even if you haven’t grown your own, you’re likely to see these long, green spirals at your local farmers market around this time each year.
If you’re wondering what the heck they are, you’re not alone. Many people don’t know what they are because we don’t usually see them in supermarkets. But these shoots are edible, they’re garlicky and they make an excellent pesto, among many other things. They’re called garlic scapes, and if you haven’t tried them, you are missing out my friend.
I first tried garlic scapes at a farmers market a few years ago and I was hooked. They weren’t in season at that time, but I found a vendor selling jars of pickled scapes. This intrigued me since I had never even heard about garlic scapes before, let alone tried them. The minute I tried the pickled variety I knew I had stumbled upon something special. I couldn’t believe I had never known about these little delicacies!
I did a little research and found out that the scapes tend to shoot up from the plants sometime around mid-June. It was only November! And I couldn’t get any more pickled scapes because I had bought them at a market away from home while Ryan and I were on our honeymoon. And now I had to wait until June!
Well, June did eventually come and I found some fresh scapes at one of our local farmers markets. I had never pickled or canned anything at that time and was still a little intimidated by the process. But I did love to cook, and I really loved to use local, seasonal ingredients in my cooking as much as possible. So I decided to make garlic scape pesto instead.
I can’t remember exactly how that first batch turned out, but Ryan seems to recall it being a little too garlicky. I’m not sure exactly how I made it or what recipe I followed, but I do know that when I made it today it was a total hit with our family. It was definitely garlicky, but it was mild enough that our 10-month-old daughter happily devoured a bowl of garlic scape pesto pasta I whipped up for dinner.
All I did to make it was take the key ingredients for a good pesto and substitute chopped garlic scapes for basil leaves. Pine nuts, parmesan, a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of salt and a little olive oil were all I needed to turn the often overlooked garlic scapes into a savoury, bold pesto that was perfect over pasta, with chopped tomatoes and olives to balance out the flavour.
I used about 15 garlic scapes and got about 1½ pints of garlic scape pesto, which is way more than I ever seem to get out my basil when I make traditional pesto. So on top of being really yummy, garlic scape pesto goes a long way and has the added bonus of being a frugal food source since it gives garlic growers a “bonus” harvest before the rest of the garlic is ready.
We used about half a pint over top of a pot of pasta, gifted another half pint to our neighbours and the last half pint should store well in the refrigerator for about a week. Alternatively, if you want to preserve it for longer you can freeze it. I will definitely be making more to freeze for later so we can continue to enjoy garlic scapes when they are no longer in season.
Pesto of all kinds, however, is not safe for canning. There are no safe, reputable home canning suggestions, so do not attempt to preserve it by canning it. Instead, you can freeze your garlic scape pesto in jars or freezer bags to preserve it. I like to use my FoodSaver to freeze mine as it sucks all the air out and ensures it won’t get a build up of ice (that will turn to water) inside the pack, which helps to maintain the quality of the pesto for a much longer period of time.
Related: Radish Top Pesto Recipe
If you’ve never grown your own garlic, I highly encourage you to give it a go! You can easily grow it even if you don’t have much space. It’s a great candidate for container gardening if all you have is a balcony or a small yard. We have raised beds and we’re growing 28 heads of garlic this year in approximately 6 square feet of space. And not only will we get 28 heads of garlic, we also get 28 garlic scapes! Not too shabby:)
* 2021 Update: I originally wrote this 4 years ago when we were living in our old house. This year we’re growing 96 head of garlic and we increase our planting every year because we use garlic in EVERYTHING! Click here to learn more about how to grow, cure and store garlic at home for year-round use.
Of course, if you aren’t yet growing garlic, it’s too little too late for this year. Garlic does best when planted in the fall, so plan ahead for next year. But in the meantime, hit up your local farmers market and grab some scapes! Aside from pesto, they are excellent when sautéed and added to stir-fries, eggs, frittatas, pasta dishes or mixed vegetables. And, of course, you can pickle them too. I definitely will be! But for now, garlic scape pesto is oh-so satisfying. And it tastes like summer… at last.
- About 12 to 15 garlic scapes, roughly chopped
- 1 cup of olive oil
- 1 cup shredded parmesan
- 1 cup pine nuts (you can substitute walnuts or almonds)
- juice from half a lemon
- A pinch of salt
- Chop garlic scapes into small pieces that will fit in your food processor. You can use the entire scape, including the bulb.
- Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend on high until all ingredients are mixed well and you are happy with the consistency of the pesto. * Use a spoon or spatula to scrape the sides of your food processor if some ingredients are sticking to the sides or not blending well.
- Once blended, transfer to a glass jar (like a Mason jar) and store in the fridge for up to a week, in the freezer for up to 6 months or in Food Saver bags in the freezer for a year or more.
- Enjoy as you would any other pesto, on pasta, bread and as a garlicky dip!
* Some people suggest not adding the parmesan if you intend to freeze pesto as the taste of the cheese can change. I haven't had that experience, but you might choose to omit the cheese and add it in once defrosted, right before you are ready to eat your pesto. You can just mix the parmesan in by hand instead of using the food processor.
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