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How to save summer (before dinner, on a rainy day in June)

June 20, 2012

A conversation I had with a coworker a few weeks ago went something like this:

Aimee: “Wow. It’s already June! Whatever happened to May?”

Coworker: “Yeah. You know what June means.”

Aimee: (Quizzical look) “No…?”

Coworker: “September.”

Sadly, I think many of us see the truth to my colleague’s sentiment. Summer approaches us with the promise of warm, relaxing days and long, lazy evenings. Before we know it, though, weeks and weekends are filled and the season wooshes by. If we fail to be mindful of the moments that make up a summer – the feel of the gentle breeze and scratchy grass that accompanies evenings at the ball field; the mingling scents of burgers on the grill, freshly cut lawn, and sunscreen; the sounds of outdoor concerts and laughing families – it’s almost like they never happened. And then, come February, you find yourself painfully aware of the fact that summer has been too long past, while also being too far into the future.

For me, one of the most exciting things about summer is the abundance of produce. Is there a name for summer-only vegetarians? Because I could easily be one of those. Why fill up on meat when it is already difficult enough to choose between aromatic herbs, juicy tomatoes, tart raspberries, sweet zucchini, and crisp cucumbers? For the past few years I’ve told myself that I would make a point of preserving those flavors somehow – be it by canning or drying or freezing, but I’ve yet to follow through on that promise.

This year will be different. This February will be the February in which I find myself longing for the flavors of pungent basil, plucked at the height of it’s freshness, and actually have the satisfaction of incorporating that flavor into that evening’s dinner. This year: I have a chest freezer.

We’re splitting this season’s CSA share with my parents, and the very first box of the season contained garlic scapes. We had a joint “dinner out of the box” with them that night, and the pesto that I made from the scapes – along with toasted almonds, olive oil and parmesan – was out of this world. I knew instantly that I wanted to make more to freeze, so I picked up a generous handful of garlic scapes at the farmer’s market a couple of weeks ago with the intention of making a large batch.

Garlic scapes were a new ingredient to my parents, but all apprehension they might have had fled the moment they tasted the pesto (in fact, my mom was anxious to get her hands on the scapes we received in this week’s share!). Garlic scapes are the curly, solid, bright-green colored shoots that grow up from garlic bulbs. Pictured front and center above, they look a bit like a thick, solid, long, curly green onion. They’re cut as a method of keeping nutrients directed toward the bulb, and are readily available at farmer’s markets (and in CSA shares). More subtle than garlic bulbs, but still sharp and hot, they are a highlight of early summer produce.

When I rummaged through this week’s CSA share I found a small bunch of basil, and although the first batch I’d made hadn’t contained it, I was anxious to add it to the mix (confession time: Mom, if you’re reading this… I used it all, and I never even told you we had any).

Tonight, while my husband set up band practice in the garage and my son played with the neighbor kids, I listened to the pitter-patter of rain on the roof and made a triple batch of pesto. I tossed some of it with thick half-moons of zucchini that were briefly boiled with the odds and ends of several bags of pasta – but more importantly, I portioned most of it into 1/2 cup servings and placed them in the freezer.

This batch is even better than the one I shared with my parents. I swapped parmesan cheese for asiago, and the creaminess and mellowness of the cheese combined with the addition of the basil balanced out the richness of the almonds and the bite of the scapes perfectly. Do make a point of using the amount of olive oil specified below, and if you’re portioning out servings for freezing don’t forget to spoon a bit of the oil into each portion.

Come February, I’m going to be a very happy lady.

Garlic Scape and Almond Pesto

Makes 3 1/2 cups

  • 25-30 garlic scapes, cut into 3 inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely grated asiago cheese
  • 1 3/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
  • Scant 1 1/2 cups toasted, slivered almonds
  • Loosely packed cup of basil (roughly two small bunches)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pulse everything in a food processor until well combined. Portion into 1/2 cup servings and freeze until ready to use. Pesto can be refrigerated for up to a week.

Use as a sauce on pasta, a dip for vegetables, or on top of chicken or fish, smeared on a sandwich, tossed with warm potatoes, mixed into mayonnaise… you get the idea.

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