We recently received close to 60 lbs of garlic scapes from our local garlic farm, Reef Point Farm. True local seasonal abundance at its best! We made Garlic Scape Pesto and Double Garlic Soup – which at the very least, kept the summer mosquitos from biting!
Highly valued throughout the ages as a culinary spice, garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. It is a hardy perennial belonging to the allium family. Other members of this family include leeks, chives, spring onions and shallots, all distinguished by their pungent aroma and flavour.
Garlic’s usage predates written history. Sanskrit records document the use of garlic remedies approximately 5000 years ago. Legend suggests that Egyptian pharaohs prized garlic very highly, and slaves building the pyramids were given a daily ration to keep them fit and strong. Throughout history, garlic has been regarded as a well-trusted remedy: during epidemics such as cholera and tuberculosis, and in World War 1 where it was used as an antiseptic applied to wounds to cleanse and heal and to treat dysentery caused by the poor sanitary conditions in the trenches. (Me thinks we now have modern trenches of a different order.)
The garlic bulb is the most commonly used portion of the plant, composed of 8-20 individual, teardrop shaped cloves enclosed in a white parchment-like skin. It is an excellent source of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). It is also a very good source of manganese, selenium, and vitamin C. In addition, garlic is a good source of other minerals, including phosphorous, calcium, potassium, iron and copper.
Many of the perceived therapeutic effects of garlic are thought to be due to its active ingredient allicin. This sulphur-containing compound gives garlic its distinctive pungent smell and taste. Luckily for us foodies, the action of chopping or crushing garlic supposedly stimulates the production of allicin, however it is thought that cooking garlic inhibits the formation of some of the perceived medicinal properties.
Modern research has focused on garlic’s potential to reduce the risk of heart disease, cholesterol levels and cancer. Several studies suggest that garlic makes platelets (the cells involved in blood clotting) less likely to clump together and stick to artery walls, therefore acting as an anticoagulant and so reducing the risk of heart attacks. The sulphurous compounds have also been studied for their ability to inhibit cancerous cells and block tumours by slowing DNA replication. The ability of these compounds to depress tumour cell proliferation is still being studied extensively.
Garlic may also lower blood pressure slightly, mainly through its ability to widen blood vessels.
Garlic has a long history of use as an infection fighter – against viruses, bacteria and fungi. It has been referred to as ‘Russian penicillin’ to denote its antibacterial properties. Some skin conditions such as warts and insect bites may respond to garlic oil, or a crushed raw garlic clove.
How to Select and Store Garlic
For the best flavour and maximum health benefits, buy fresh garlic. Do not buy garlic that is soft, shows evidence of decay, or is beginning to sprout. Garlic in flake, powder, or paste form is convenient, but it is not as good as fresh garlic. It is best stored at room temperature in an uncovered container in a cool, dark place away from exposure to heat and sunlight. Storing it in this manner will help prevent sprouting. Depending on its age and variety, a whole garlic bulb will keep fresh from 2 weeks to 2 months.
Garlic Scape Pesto
The star of this pesto is the garlic plant’s underappreciated second offering: the fleeting garlic scape. The ingredients are straightforward except for the substitution of sunflower seeds for pine nuts. The seeds are a fraction of the cost and do the job just as well. We like to roast the sunflower seeds and cool prior to add depth to the flavor profile. A food processor is a must for this recipe.
For pesto, ingredient order matters. Start with the scapes and process for about 30 seconds. Add the seeds until they are broken down and mixed well with the scapes. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula for wandering bits. Next, pour in the olive oil. If you have Parmesan cheese in chunks, add it now, but if it is grated, wait until the garlic scapes and seeds smooth out. If you’re serving right away, add the basil and lemon juice. If not, hold back on the basil for now — otherwise the pesto will lose its vibrant color.
Add generously to cooked spaghetti or spread on crusty bread. The lemon can aid in maintaining the bright green color of the pesto. Store airtight, with a thin layer of olive oil to seal further and a layer of plastic wrap!
We suggest munching on one of the garlic scapes and seeing how strong it is before making the pesto. If you wish, place the garlic scapes, cut into manageable pieces into a colander and pour a couple cups of very hot or boiling water slowly over it. Drain well. That will temper the spice and mellow the final product a bit. I learned this from a farmer who was growing marvelous garlic, and who was making and selling all kinds of bulbs, as well as products made with garlic and scapes.
- 1 cup garlic scapes, sliced crosswise (about 10 to 12 scapes)
- ¼ cup raw sunflower seeds
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese (you can omit the parmesan, if you are dairy free)
- ½ cup basil leaves
- Juice of one lemon
- Place the garlic scapes in a food processor and pulse for 30 seconds.
- Add the sunflower seeds and pulse for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Add the olive oil and process on high for 15 seconds.
- Add the Parmesan cheese and pulse until the ingredients are combined.
- Add the basil and lemon juice, and process until reaching the desired consistency.
- Add salt to taste and serve immediately.
Double Garlic Soup
Double up by using both the garlic scapes and the bulbs! We made this soup to rave reviews several times during our garlic scape bounty days.
4 servings, 45 min
- 3 fat bulbs green garlic, root and green parts trimmed, outer layer removed
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 cups sliced garlic scapes (about 3/4 pound)
- 1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, more for garnish
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
- Ground black pepper to taste
- 1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and diced
- 1 quart vegetable broth
- 1 cup half-and-half or whole milk
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- Chop green garlic. In a soup pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add green garlic and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add scapes, thyme, salt and pepper, and sauté for 5 minutes.
- Stir in potato and broth, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until scapes and potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Add half-and-half, and purée soup with an immersion blender or pour into a regular blender. Stir in the lemon juice and season with more salt and pepper. Garnish with nutmeg and thyme leaves, and serve hot.
Serve with a crusty bread, and or croutons!
Photocredits top to bottom: Green Mountain Garlic, Olga’s Flavor Factory, Frank Zhang, Paul Morris, Linda at Roti n Rice, Caroline Attwood