Garlic Scapes and leek scapes are coming into full season here at the Druid’s Garden homestead, so I thought I’d share my method of preserving garlic scapes for use throughout the year. After a few years of experimentation, I’ve perfected my process for creating a yummy pesto and preserving the pesto for a variety of uses.
Garlic scapes and leek scapes mature at about the same time, usually around the summer solstice where I live here in USDA Zone 6, Western Pennsylvania. Garlic is planted in October the previous fall, which allows you to harvest scapes and then later bulbs the following season. Leeks have to be treated in a similar way to result in scapes–you won’t get any get scapes on leeks unless they overwinter. This past year, I planted some last September and didn’t harvest them all, so they overwintered, so now they are growing delicious scapes ready for processing. If you don’t have scapes of your own, any farmer’s market is likely to have many scapes to purchase! Buy a few bunches to enjoy and prepare.
In terms of flavor, garlic scapes have a spicy and complex flavor, a lot like garlic bulbs but a bit less pungent. The leek scapes are more mild and oniony with a hint of sweetness. You can process them separately or you can just mix them together if you have both.
The way that I like to process scapes is a fresh scape pesto. A garlic or leek scape pesto can be made in a very brief amount of time and can then be frozen and stay good in your freezer for up to a year (if it would ever last that long!)
The Versatile, Amazing Scape Pesto
Pick your scapes or get them at the farmer’s market. If you are picking, you will want to monitor them as they start to emerge. You want to get them after they emerge for a few days and once they’ve curled over. If you wait too long, they can get a bit tough and if they stay on the garlic plant long term, they will redirect a lot of energy away from your garlic bulbs, so they are necessary to harvest for a good garlic crop.
This recipe is greatly speeded up with a food processor. You could do it by hand–chop the scapes up coarsely and then use a larger mortar and pestle or just finely chop with a knife. Getting the pesto pulverized is the goal.
–Optional: parmesan cheese, pine nuts or walnuts
Your food processor can handle a good handful or two of scapes at a time. I begin by loosely chopping the scapes (in 1/2 or 1/3), just enough to fill my food processor about halfway full. From there, I pour in a few tablespoons of high-quality olive oil (usually about 3-4 tbsp for a half-full processor of scapes) and a pinch of salt. Process until you get a thick green pesto. You will likely want to stop the processor several times and use a spatula to scrape the bits of garlic off the sides. If the pesto is too runny, you can add more scapes, and if it’s too thick, add a bit more olive oil. If you are processing a lot of scapes, you may have to do it in several batches. Since I freeze my pesto, I am going for a thicker consistency.
You can add other ingredients as you see fit. I like to add some parmesan cheese (2-3 tablespoons) and pine nuts to make a more traditional pesto. You can also add lemon juice and tahini for another kind of twist (this turns it into a kind of dressing).
Preservation and Freezing
Once you have your pesto finished, you can freeze it for up to 1 year. What I like to do for this is either use an ice cube tray or simply scoop your pesto out into 2-3 tbsp scoops on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. I place either the trays or cookie sheet into the freezer for 12 hours. Pull them back out. Now you can place all of these in a freezer bag and pull out 1 or more cubes of pesto as you need them.
There are countless ways that you can use this garlic or leek scape pesto. Here are a few:
Rice: Add 3 tbsp or more of fresh pesto to 3 cups freshly cooked rice–I like to do this when you fluff the rice with a fork after cooking and let it sit for 10 min. This gives the rice a delicious garlic flavor. You can also do the same with other grains like quinoa.
Hummus: Add 2-3 tbsp to a homemade hummus for an extra garlic or leek flavor.
Garlic dip. Mix 3-4 tablespoons with 1 cup sour cream and add salt and parmesan to taste. You can also add a bit more fresh garlic or garlic powder to round out the flavor.
Meats and grilling. This pesto makes an excellent marinade or baste for chicken, fish, and other meats. You can use it in a variety of ways: on the grill, in the oven, as part of a sauce for over top meat, and more. I like to add 2-3 tablespoons to meatloaf and/or burgers.
Pasta: Sautee zucchini or other fresh garden veggies until they are nearly done. Toss 3-4 tablespoons in the skillet and cook an additional minute. Add a few splashes of cream and toss with pasta. (Top with fish or scallops!)
Sandwich spread: This pesto can be used on its own or mixed with mayo to create a delicious spread for any kind of sandwich.
Drizzle. Add a bit more olive oil and parmesan and use this as a drizzle over a variety of dishes.
I hope that many of you can enjoy this delicious and amazing treat this season!