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Garlic Scape Pesto From Homegrown Garlic


bag full of garlic scapes
When I was recently out in the garden, I noticed that the garlic scapes had grown big enough to curl into a complete circle over the top of each head of garlic, which meant it was time to make garlic scape pesto. This is the first year I've made pesto from our garlic scapes. It was such an easy task and the result was so delicious that we thought it was worth sharing some information about it.  If you are interested in growing garlic, or you already grow garlic in your garden, don't forget about the scapes. Scapes only grow on hardneck garlic varieties.  

You may recall that we planted our garlic last October.  The garlic overwinters and then begins to grow like crazy once spring arrives.  Our garlic is usually ready to harvest in July, but in mid to late June we can cut the scapes off, allowing the rest of the plant to continue growing for a few more weeks.

Below is what our mature garlic looked like recently, prior to cutting off the scapes.  Take note that the garlic has both leaves (which looks like thick blades of grass) and a scape, which has the flower (bulbils) at the end.

garlic growing in our garden

We harvested nearly all of the scapes two days ago, late in the evening. I rinsed them, put them into a clean plastic shopping bag and placed them in the refrigerator crisper.  Then the next day, I made the pesto.

Be sure to only harvest young, curled scapes. If the scape is too old, it will get woody inside.  You should cut and use the scapes while they are still curled.  If the scape is standing up straight, likely the fibers inside have gotten thicker, which gives it an unpleasant, tough and woody texture. This applies to all hardneck garlic varieties. There is an exception with elephant garlic, which has scapes that don't curl.

We harvested enough scapes to make two batches of pesto using our food processor.  After reviewing a few different recipes online, we settled on making our own recipe because I didn't feel like measuring how many chopped scapes there were and we wanted a simple recipe.  It seemed easy enough to eyeball the ingredients and toss in amounts that looked good, tasting and adjusting as needed.

chopped garlic scapes in food processor

One detail I learned about making pesto is that rather than using pine nuts (which are expensive and hard to find), many people nowadays are using walnuts.  So that's what we used! We also keep freshly squeezed lemon juice in ice cube trays in our freezer for the ease of cooking with.  Below are approximations for how we made the pesto:

Garlic Scape Pesto

3 cups roughly chopped garlic scapes
1 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup olive oil to start with (adding more as desired)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 cup of fresh grated parmesan cheese to be added prior to cooking with (omit if freezing)

Instructions: Grind all except the Parmesan cheese in a food processor until well blended.  Continue to grind it until it reaches a smooth consistency.  This took several minutes.  Spoon into room temperature sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch headroom, and put on lids. Place in freezer. 

Note: Parmesan cheese is added only when you are going to serve the pesto.  Otherwise, if you are planning to freeze the pesto, leave out the parmesan; this is because the flavor of the cheese and pesto are negatively impacted if the two ingredients are frozen together.  You can mix in the parmesan cheese after the pesto has thawed and before serving.

When cutting up the scapes, we left on the the flower tip, also known as a spathe, and used it in the pesto. As the spathe grows, it forms teeny tiny cloves of garlic inside, which are called bulbils. The whole scape is edible including the spathe with its young bulbils.

canning garlic scape pesto for freezer

We were amazed at the wonderful flavor of garlic scape pesto.  My daughter asked if the pesto had avocado in it (it does not); she thought the texture was creamy as if an avocado had been added. I think the creaminess comes from the olive oil.  Be sure to use high quality olive oil, walnuts and parmesan cheese, as these really do enhance the flavor of the pesto. We also loved the bright and spicy garlic flavor.

garlic scape pesto for the freezer

In all, we had 7 jars to tuck away in the freezer.  We used both half pint and pint jars.  We also kept some of the pesto out to make pizza that night.

How to cook with garlic scape pesto

My husband gave this pizza a big thumbs-up, saying he loved the pesto better than the tradition red sauce we've done in the past.  The pizza had a homemade sourdough crust along with a variety of toppings, with most of the vegetables coming from our garden.  Here are the ingredients we used on our pizza:

  • garlic scape pesto
  • chopped swiss chard 
  • broccoli
  • peas
  • salami
  • Italian cheese mix
  • sliced black olives
  • oregano
There's still more pesto in the bowl in the refrigerator, leftover from yesterday's pizza, and it already has the parmesan cheese it in.  Tonight I will experiment with making jumbo shrimp and noodles with pesto. Likely some peas and broccoli from our garden will get sautéed and added to the noodles. We also harvested an artichoke today that may get served tonight. So many fresh ingredients, just love this time of year with the variety that's coming out of the garden.

If the flavor of garlic scape pesto weren't reason enough to enjoy growing and using more of the garlic plant, consider how beneficial garlic is for your health.  I was just reading an article from Cleveland Health on this topic, 6 Surprising Ways Garlic Boosts Your Health.  Adding garlic scape pesto to your freezer is one way to have more health-boosting garlic on hand to include in your mealtimes.

We hope you found this information interesting and that it inspires you to grow garlic and make garlic scape pesto!