Archives for category: Scapes

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So you may have noticed by now that I love pesto. And I did do two back-to-back posts involving some kind of pasta and this will be my third. But did you know I adore eggplant? Love it in almost all its forms, preparations, and oddities?

I heard recently we refer to them as eggplants because once upon a time it was common to see the small white variety that really do resemble eggs, like in the photo above, unlike the large, bulbous, and purple type most of us grew up seeing, at least here in the U.S.

My earliest associations with this nightshade are of goopy, yet delicious, fried eggplant Parmesan dishes served up all over the Long Island of my youth. The southern Italians that fanned out across the island appeared to like eggplant as much as I now do. You couldn’t even really taste the eggplant, it was mostly mozzarella and tomato sauce masquerading as a meal. I had no idea back then that eggplants are used in Indian, Middle Eastern, Thai, and Japanese cooking as well. Apparently the Italians don’t have a monopoly on the purple bulb. Its origins are actually Indian.

Eggplants are all the rage right now at farmers’ markets in New York City. Big ones, little ones, striped ones, skinny ones, fat ones. They must be drooping heavily from their plants at farms upstate in the heat and sunshine of the past month. Eggplants like it hot. I saw them on Saturday at McCarren Park but passed them over in favor of other in-season veggies, so when I eyed them at today’s market in Union Square on my way to work (I swear I have another legitimate reason to hang around Union Square besides stalking vegetables), I decided to buy one in the hopes I’d make something of it for dinner tonight. But first, a digression.

I sometimes hear that shopping at farmers’ markets is expensive. A luxury that only those with disposable incomes can afford. Granted, some items at the market are expensive and can be had for less at grocery stores. I would love to buy local NYC honey for example, but often can’t afford it. Or perhaps I can afford it, but we’re making decisions all the time about what to spend our hard-earned money on and what not to. And I think that’s the point isn’t it? I go on and on about farmers’ markets and seasonal vegetables and I put my money where my mouth is.

To me, good quality food is important. So is a good value. There are lots of things I pass up at the market because I’m not willing to spend over a certain amount on certain things. But there are lots of things at the market I am willing to pay for, often because the quality and taste is exceptional and it’s a good value. And, because I love food and eating in season and eating a tomato that tastes like a tomato. I don’t really spend money on concerts, sporting events, yoga, alcohol, pets, phones or other tech gadgets, teeth whitening, or a number of other things you may part with your money for. For me, it’s food, travel, books, and the occasional movie ticket. We’re always choosing what to do with our money, if we’re lucky to have a little extra after we pay the bills.

Let’s cut to the chase. The eggplant around which I built tonight’s dinner cost $1.25 (less than almost every cup of coffee in NYC these days). The pint of splendid sungold cherry tomatoes was $3.50 (definitely less than a latte at Starbucks). The kale I bought at the youth farmers’ market in Clinton Hill yesterday was a whopping $2 (probably less than a Whopper). The pasta I bought in bulk from the food co-op (some Whole Foods also sell pasta in bulk) and the amount I used tonight cost approximately 75¢. Let’s talk peaches: 3 for $2 at today’s market. Maybe that sounds like a lot, maybe it doesn’t. All I know is, when I bit into it this afternoon, its juices dripped down my arm and the yellow flesh tasted of the best memories of summer. Worth every 67 pennies.

So tonight’s meal cost somewhere around $7.50 and made 4 servings. That’s $1.88 per serving. Or what I call a happy meal.

Now economics aside, it’s time to get cooking. By the time I got home and rolling it was nearing 9 pm, not an unusual start time for dinner prep in my apartment. I put a pot of salted water on the stove to boil for the pasta. I then got out a large sauté pan, added to it 1-2 tbsp olive oil, and turned up the heat.

While the pan got hot I chopped one shallot and 3 leftover scapes I still had in my fridge. Threw them into the sauté pan and let that go for about 4-5 minutes until the onions browned. Meanwhile I diced and salted the eggplant then threw that into the pan. I washed and chopped a bunch of kale (it was probably 5-6 cups) and added that to the pan after the eggplant looked mostly cooked. Once the water in my pasta pot boiled I added about 1 cup of tri-color rotini, let it cook for 7-8 minutes, al dente.

Once the kale had wilted I added 1 cup of the cherry tomatoes, sliced in half, and turned the heat off. I didn’t need for the tomatoes to cook, just to get a little squishy and warm, which they did beautifully. I then drained the pasta and added it to the pan of veggies. The pièce de résistance was 4 tbsp of leftover homemade basil pesto stirred in at the end for a little kick.

The dish was gobbled up quickly. The onions were sweet and browned and stuck to the pesto which hung to the eggplant which clung to the pasta in a choreography of summer vegetable heaven. As Ina Garten might say, “You can’t beat that.”

Pesto is all about summer. It tastes like the sun setting at 8:30 pm, like fireflies blinking in the distance, like saltwater and sand and waves. When the weather is hot, I can’t get enough.

I like experimenting with pesto. Not only can you make the traditional basil-olive oil-Parmesan-pine nuts-garlic variety, but you can substitute any number of ingredients in that list with others. For instance, arugula instead of basil, or walnuts instead of pine nuts. Yesterday it was about garlic scapes.

Garlic scapes are the curling flower stalks that grow from the bulb of garlic plants. If you’ve been to a farmers’ market recently you have likely seen these green tentacles piled high on tables. The season is very short—not to sound like Chicken Little but it will be ending soon—so scoop them up now.

They have a similar garlicky-onion taste as scallions or ramps and can be used in much the same way. I harvested heaps of basil from my little herb garden Saturday so I knew a pesto was in order. I had a big bag of scapes in my fridge that travelled with me from Kate’s garden in Vermont earlier in the week. The math was simple: scapes + basil = a delicious pesto for dinner.

I picked up a pound of scallops (I love scallops drizzled with pesto), whole wheat linguine, and greens for a salad. Risking pesto overkill, I decided I’d serve the pesto over both the scallops and linguine. Like I said, this time of year, I can’t get enough.

Garlic Scape Pesto

5 c basil
a chunk of Parmesan (roughly 1/4 pound)
3/4 c walnuts*
5-6 stalks of garlic scapes, bottom few inches trimmed off and discarded, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 – 3/4 c good olive oil

Makes 2 c of pesto

*You can use pine nuts in addition or instead but the price of pine nuts has soared recently and at $34 a pound I pass over pignoli for the cheaper but still flavorful walnut.

In a food processor, add the basil, Parmesan (cut into chunks), walnuts, and scapes. Start pulsing and gradually pour in the olive oil through the feeder tube. Use more or less olive oil according to your preference, same with salt. After a minute or two of pulsing you’ll have a fragrant, delicious spread for breads, pasta, vegetables, or fish. (If you have an ice cream maker: I dare you.) Blend more for smoother pesto, less for chunkier. I think it would also be nice to add the zest of 1 lemon here, but I didn’t do that this time around.

As for the scallops, I washed about 1 pound and patted them dry as much as possible, adding salt and pepper to each side, then sautéed them in a cast iron skillet in 1-2 tbsp butter for 2-3 minutes on each side.

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