Garlic Shoot Pesto

I went with the intention of finding garlic shoots, and there they were.

About 40 twisty tendrils sat in a basket, beside the spinach, at a small stand at the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market. I couldn’t resist. I grabbed a handful, handed it to the grower and asked how much. Her price: 50 cents. In that case, I thought,  I’ll buy more. I’m all about finding bargains at farmers markets, since they’re getting harder and harder to find (ahem, $6 for a quart of organic strawberries?). The grower gave me another few ounces of shoots free of charge.  They’re too hard to get rid of, she said.

Good for me, but what a shame. Garlic shoots, also known as garlic scapes, are as overlooked as turnip and radish greens. They are often treated as waste , rather than a delicious rite of spring.

As garlic grows, it shoots up a curled stalk. Garlic growers cut off the stalks to encourage the bulb to grow. The tendrils  often get thrown into a compost heap rather than sold in supermarkets. If you see these, try them. The shoots smell and taste like garlic, but they’re less pungent, a little like a scallion green is to an onion. They can be used like an herb, adding flavor to egg dishes and tomato sauces. Some people pickle them and use them in salads. My favorite way to use them is in pesto.

This has a stronger flavor than basil pesto. No additional garlic is required. I love pecans or walnuts in this, but if you have pine nuts and want to use them instead, you won’t be disappointed.

Yesterday I made a triple batch of this once-a-year indulgence. I had it today with whole wheat spaghetti. It’s also great cold with chicken, which I’ve taken to work as chicken salad. If you like making large batches of things to save time and money, like me, note that this pesto freezes quite well. Just put it in a container, or in ice cube trays. Use it within three months.

Garlic Shoot / Garlic Scape Pesto
slightly adapted from The Washington Post, June 2006

1 cup garlic shoots (about 8 or 9 shoots), top flowery part removed, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/3 cup walnuts, pecans or pine nuts
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste

Place shoots and nuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well combined and somewhat smooth. Slowly pour in the olive oil and process until integrated. With a spatula, scoop pesto out of the bowl and into a mixing bowl. Stir in cheese to taste. Add salt and pepper.

Makes about 6 ounces of pesto. Keeps for up to one week in the fridge and three months in the freezer.


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