The Simple Basil Swap For Ultra-Garlicky Pesto

Nothing says summertime like fresh pesto. It's a quick and easy pasta sauce recipe composed of basil, pine nuts, olive oil, parmesan, and garlic. The result is a nutty and herbaceous mixture with a slight kick to it. And it doesn't have to be limited to pasta — pesto is good on chicken, a veggie grilled pizza, or atop a bed of roasted sweet potatoes

But for those of us who tend to always add more garlic to a recipe than it calls for, there's a simple ingredient substitution that can take your pesto to the next level. You can amplify the garlic flavor without it getting too spicy and without sacrificing the herby qualities provided by the basil. The answer? Fresh garlic scapes. 

Garlic scapes taste similar to the robust flavor of garlic cloves; however, they may not have as much of a spicy kick. You could compare them to scallions or chives, which makes them a good addition to any type of stir fry, marinade, casserole, and of course: pesto.

What are garlic scapes?

In the grocery store, you will often see hardneck garlic sold in bulb form. While the bulbs are what you typically expect to cut up and incorporate into your dish, there is actually another part of the garlic that you can eat — the long, thin, curling green tendrils that shoot out of the ground while the garlic is growing. These are called "garlic scapes."

If you don't recall seeing these in stores, it's probably because they aren't carried everywhere. You'll have the best luck at farmers markets or grocery stores that source from a stock of local and seasonal vendors. Often, these scapes get cut by farmers because it helps concentrate energy into the growth of the bulb, which is the primary harvest. During the late spring and early summer, you might be able to find garlic scapes in seasonal markets. If not, you can always grow your own.

How to incorporate garlic scapes into pesto

When cooking with your favorite pesto recipe, it is pretty easy to work garlic scapes in with the other ingredients. All you need to do is substitute part of your basil for the garlic scapes since the scapes will blend into a consistency similar to the basil. The exact ratio of basil to garlic scapes is up to you — it all depends on personal taste. Up to half garlic scapes is a good place to start, but you can also substitute the basil completely. 

Compile the ingredients in a blender or food processor and combine until silky and emulsified. Taste the pesto to make sure it has the flavor you want. When it has the right balance of garlicky goodness, it's ready to use! Add the pesto to your favorite foods today, or store it in the freezer so you can have a taste of this summery green sauce in all seasons.