Garlic Scape Pesto (And 6 More Ideas for Garlic's Green Shoot)

A versatile ingredient that functions as a vegetable, aromatic, and herb all in one.

Overhead view of garlic scape pesto in a small bowl next to a wide rimmed, shallow bowl of cooked white beans and pesto

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Why It Works

  • Raw pine nuts add a subtle sweetness and nutty flavor to the pesto. 
  • Stirring in the olive oil instead of blending it in means it's less likely the pesto will become bitter.

In the early days of summer, the vibrant green curlicue tangles of garlic scapes start cropping up at farmers’ markets. These long shoots are, in fact, the harvested unopened flower stems that erupt from the top of hardneck garlic bulbs. Farmers lop these stems off to encourage the growth of plump garlic cloves in the below-ground bulbs. If the scapes are left to grow unchecked, the plants divert their energy towards blooming the flowers, producing smaller, less flavorful bulbs. 

Scapes have a softer, less assertive flavor than raw garlic cloves, with a fresh vegetal note, and they can be used in both raw and cooked applications. One of my favorite ways to highlight their mellow garlicky flavor is to make them into a pesto by blending raw scapes with pine nuts, fresh lemon juice and zest, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, basil, and extra-virgin olive oil. For this recipe, I keep the pine nuts raw, which adds a nutty roundness to the pesto. I also rely on the food processor, rather than a mortar and pestle, to finely mince the crunchy scapes. Once the rest of the ingredients are incorporated, you’re left with a zingy, bright green pesto that has a lot of versatility, which can be used anywhere a traditional Genovese pesto might be used: you can toss it with pasta, combine it with cooked white beans, mix it in chicken salad, and use it as a condiment on sandwiches and alongside grilled and roasted meats and vegetables. 

Garlic scapes arranged ona a plate in a overlapping circle pattern

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Beyond Pesto: What Else Can You Make With Garlic Scapes

Of course, the pesto recipe below is just one way to use garlic scapes. Because garlic scapes are an allium with an herbal accent, much like scallions and chives, they can add depth, complexity, funk, and freshness to a wide range of dishes. Here are six more ideas for what to do with garlic scapes beyond pesto: 

  • Scapes as an Aromatic: Since scapes have a garlicky bite, you can and should use them as you would regular garlic cloves. I recommend using at least twice as many scapes as you would cloves, to start. Keep in mind that cooking scapes tames their flavor, so you may want to increase the amount for a more pronounced kick. 
  • Scapes as a Vegetable: Cooked or raw scapes work well as a vegetable. Garlic scapes can often be woody, so before you use them in any preparation, it’s best to check for and cut off tough, fibrous parts from the bottom of the stem and near the top of the tightly-closed bud. That said, if you want to nix any trace of woodiness, you should consider blanching the scapes first. Then, simply slice them into a shape you prefer, from small rounds for stir-fries to green bean-like lengths for adding in salads. 
  • Grilled Garlic Scapes: I like to coat garlic scapes in olive oil, salt, and pepper and cook them over direct heat. When charred, scapes take on a flavor reminiscent of roasted garlic―sweet and slightly spicy. Finished with a splash of olive oil and lemon juice, they’re a quick and easy side dish that’s perfect alongside grilled chicken, pork chops, and burgers. 
  • Garlic Scape Hummus: Scapes are a great addition to hummus, infusing the dip with their mellow flavor and green hue. I like to swap out garlic cloves for blanched scapes, but if you want a double whammy of garlic flavor, feel free to add both. To amp up the garlic even more, sauté thinly sliced scapes in olive oil and pile them on top before serving.
  • Garlic Scape Compound Butter: Scapes are delicious in compound butter. This variation on a classic beurre maître d'hôtel has a mild garlic edge―the scapes give that garlic flavor without the same level of intense pungency as the raw garlic cloves. To prepare the butter, blanch the scapes first for tenderness, then finely mince and mash them into a softened butter along with minced parsley, lemon juice, and salt. It’s great for spreading on bread, swirling into a bowl of hot soup, or dabbing on grilled or steamed fish and meat. 
  • Garlic Scape Soup: Last but not least, you can make scape soup. This fresh-tasting soup starts with sweating leeks and garlic scapes in butter, adding vegetable stock (or water) and a Yukon Gold potato for body, and letting everything simmer on the stove. Once it’s done, stir in mint and parsley then blend it all together. The vividly green soup can be dished up warm or chilled. 

Garlic Scape Storage

When stored in a slightly open plastic bag, garlic scapes keep remarkably well in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. This gives you ample time to enjoy your garlic scapes and give one, or all, of the ideas a try.

June 2010

This article was originally written by Carolyn Cope. It has since been significantly updated and rewritten by Kristina Razon.

Recipe Facts

4.7

(3)

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Total: 10 mins
Makes: 1 1/4 cups

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Ingredients

  • 5 garlic scapes, woody ends trimmed and scapes roughly chopped (about 70g)

  • 1/4 cup (35g) pine nuts

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) fresh lemon juice plus 1 teaspoon grated zest from 1 lemon

  • Kosher salt

  • 1/4 cup (20g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

  • 1 1/2 ounces (45g) basil leaves (from about one 3-ounce/85g bunch), washed with water still clinging to the leaves

  • 1/2 cup (120ml) extra-virgin olive oil

  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine scapes, pine nuts, and lemon juice and zest, and season with salt. Process, scraping down sides halfway through with a flexible spatula, until scapes and nuts are broken down into small pieces, about 1 minute. Add cheese and process until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add basil and pulse until finely minced, about ten 1-second pulses. 

    Four Image Collage. Top Left: Unmixed peans, garlic scapes, and lemon zest in a food processor. Top Right: Blended pesto in food processor. Bottom Left: Spinach added to food processor. Bottom Right: finished pesto in food processor

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  2. Transfer scape mixture to a medium bowl. While stirring continuously, slowly pour olive oil into scape mixture in a thin stream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

    Oil being whisked into pesto base in a glass bowl

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  3. Pesto can be used right away, or transferred to a jar or container, covered with a thin  layer of olive oil, and sealed, then stored following the instructions below.

    A plate of cooked white beans covered in garlic scape pesto

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Food processor

Make-Ahead and Storage

Garlic scape pesto can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
1332 Calories
140g Fat
17g Carbs
14g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Amount per serving
Calories 1332
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 140g 179%
Saturated Fat 20g 100%
Cholesterol 17mg 6%
Sodium 1544mg 67%
Total Carbohydrate 17g 6%
Dietary Fiber 5g 17%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 14g
Vitamin C 25mg 123%
Calcium 325mg 25%
Iron 5mg 30%
Potassium 637mg 14%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)