Garlic Scape Pesto

by Maja Lukic


Midsummer. Slow heat. I have not been cooking much and, accordingly, today's recipe requires no cooking. What I'm feeling these days is alt-pesto, as in pesto without basil, pesto without cheese. Kale, collard green, or plain nut pesto. Anything alternative or unusual is welcome. And I do not eat my pesto with pasta, which dilutes its raw, pungent magic. The pesto-pasta dialogue has been stale for some time, I think. Pesto, as far as I'm concerned, is an unaffiliated, nonpartisan sauce/condiment that works beautifully in any number of non-traditional pairings.  

Here, basil makes some room for tangles of garlic scapes, which you can find in massive piles at the market (though they may be on their way out now). Last summer, I passed them by--they seemed too alien, and I had other plans. This summer, I've been packing them into plastic bags whenever they appear, often buying more than I could possibly use.

These lovely green coils are the stems that grow from the bulbs of hard-necked garlic. Left on their own to grow, the stems eventually bloom and you can see the creamy tips have already formed, but they're generally pulled from the ground before they reach that stage. Their garlic flavor is discernible but far softer than mature garlic--analogous to chives.

There's a beautiful simplicity to using garlic scapes in the kitchen and unlike a lot of organic or local produce, they're a terrific bargain. Fresh produce from the farmers market typically has a short life. Most items, even if properly prepped and stored, will not last beyond a few days. Some vegetables require immediate use. Remember ramps? Exeunt: those things. Enter: garlic scapes and their remarkable longevity. Stored in a plastic bag in the fridge, garlic scapes will stay fresh for up to two weeks, though I have discovered that the garlic flavor deepens as they age. The stems are hardy and smooth, unblemished and relatively clean, requiring no peeling or scrubbing beyond a rinse in cold water. This eliminates my least favorite part of cooking--peeling, cleaning, and then chopping garlic cloves. Nothing maddens me quite so much as the whispery tissue scraps of garlic skin that cling to my fingers, my knife blade or the cutting board.

This is a dairy-free pesto because with both nuts and pine nuts, the cheese seems superfluous to me. And without dairy, it keeps better in the fridge and freezer. The lemon juice, however, is indispensable. I'm serious. I've never understood recipes that deploy green vegetables without at least a hit of lemon juice or vinegar. The acid is necessary to cut through the grassy bitter flavor of most raw green vegetables and to balance the fat from the nuts and oil. Use the lemon. Typically, I'll finish this with a healthy dose of Aleppo pepper because I use Aleppo indiscriminately these days, but you can certainly substitute another dried red pepper.

Give this pesto a shot. Most recently, I've used it on polenta, on avocado toast, on frittatas and poached eggs, stirred into cooked grains, on a bagel with smoked salmon, and as a dip for sliced cucumbers. Enjoy & stay cool!

Garlic Scape Pesto (v/gf)

Makes 2 cups

I love using mostly walnut oil here, but you can reduce the stated quantity or substitute olive oil. I have tried this pesto with walnuts, but I found them too bitter and grainy. The trinity of nutritional yeast, cashews, and pine nuts is most pleasing to me. but depending on the state of your pantry, you can substitute any other type of nut. The lemon juice, though, is non-negotiable. See above. 

1 cup basil, lightly packed

12-15 garlic scapes, trimmed and chopped

1/2 cup pine nuts and/or cashews

1 tbsp nutritional yeast

3 tbsp walnut oil

1-2 tbsp olive oil

zest of 1/2 lemon + lemon juice, to taste

sea salt, Aleppo pepper (or other dried red pepper), to taste

Toast the nuts in a dry skillet over medium hot or in a 350 F oven until just warmed through and lightly browned, about 4 to 7 minutes. Toast cashews and pine nuts separately.

Rinse the garlic scapes, and trim the cream-colored buds. Discard the buds. Chop the green stems and add to a food processor along with the basil, toasted nuts, and nutritional yeast. Process until finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in both oils. Season the pesto with lemon juice, sea salt, and Aleppo pepper to taste, and process until completely smooth. Pesto will keep in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for 3-4 months.

What should you do with your pesto?

Roast these mushrooms.


Cucumber & Borage Flower G&T (and a blog birthday)

by Maja Lukic


Veggies & Gin was a year old as of July 22. Did I miss this significant event in the life of my blog because, on that particular day, I was sitting on a beach in Puerto Rico with a little F. Scott Fitz and iced drink in hand? Possibly. But we've already established that I'm a lazy dilettante of a food blogger. 

In any event, to celebrate the belated blog birthday, I made some cooling gin cocktails. This seems appropriate because the idea for starting this blog probably has its origins in a glass of gin on some slow balmy night last summer. 

On vacation last week, I enjoyed days and nights of sweltering gin weather but because rum is king in the Caribbean, I had to wait until I was back in New York to indulge in this gin and cucumber combination. And, by the way, I'm going on record now to claim that I coined the phrase "gin weather" a few years back. If you'd like to dispute that, go ahead--please use the contact form. 

The cucumbers here are of the slim, spindly Asian burpless variety (the name derives from the fact that these varieties contain little to no cucurbitacin, a compound that produces a bitter flavor in other cucumbers and impacts indigestion in some people). If you see them at the market, don't pass them up. They're sweet and fragrant with no trace of bitterness. The thin skin can be prickly but becomes smooth after a good scrub under cold running water. 

And then I was doing my usual run at the market a few weekends ago when I saw these pretty blue and lilac star-shaped Borage flowers. Predictably, I was determined to buy them long before the girls at the stand informed me that Borage flowers taste like cucumbers. They didn't lie, by the way--Borage has a clean, fresh flavor, and plays well in fresh salads or anywhere cucumbers are welcome. The color disparity is due to the age of the flowers--Borage flowers are pale pink/violet when they first open but deepen into twilight blue as they mature. I've also since learned that Borage has healing properties, though I wouldn't assume those benefits hold strong in the presence of clear spirits.

The recipe itself is dead simple and requires no elaboration. You've handled a G&T with skill and grace before and I trust you can handle this one as well. One final note: with this interplay of cucumber flavors, I recommend using Hendrick's gin. Not because it's a special favorite of mine (which it is) but because Hendrick's has those lovely cucumber tones. 

Reflecting on this past year, it's been an interesting experience. My photography has improved from bad to less bad, I've upgraded to a serious camera, and I think I've been better at following instinct and inspiration when it comes to selecting and testing recipes (maybe). I still consider this blog a privilege (my lack of diligence notwithstanding) and a tremendous outlet for creative expression. Thanks for reading and thanks for the support!

Cucumber & Borage Flower Gin & Tonic 

Makes 1 cocktail

1 1/2 oz. gin (Hendrick's)

1/3 cup sliced, unpeeled burpless cucumbers

tonic water

Borage flowers

ice cubes, lime

Muddle cucumber slices in the bottom of a glass with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon. Add ice and a handful of Borage flowers. Pour gin over top and top off the glass with tonic water. Stir and squeeze some fresh lime juice into the cocktail. 

Serve, garnished with additional Borage flowers, if you wish.

Note: Use a decent brand of tonic--anything too harsh and acerbic will overwhelm the cucumber. 


Shredded Zucchini Salad

by Maja Lukic


Zucchini season has commenced. I, for one, am thrilled about this development. That, and the beginning of Summer of Riesling. Because how can you not get excited about an entire summer of delicious Riesling? (Though I must admit that this summer, like everyone else, I'm obsessed with Albariño wines). 

I've never understood why people complain about needing to dispose of large quantities of zucchini. I can never seem to keep enough zucchini in my kitchen. In any case, it's not even peak season yet and everyone is making zucchini noodles and pasta, which is an acceptable treatment. But I'm proposing that you do something a little different here.  I'm proposing that you shred or grate your zucchini and then serve it up as a fantastic raw salad.  

This is about as refreshing and delicious as it gets. For instance, it was so hot last weekend that I couldn't comprehend the thought of solid food. I walked down to Liquiteria for a smoothie lunch (though if it hadn't been so humid, I would have walked the 30+ blocks to The Butcher's Daughter for one of their juices). My liquid lunch turned out to be an ill-advised decision because I crashed by about 4 p.m.  But it was still blistering outside. I had this salad in the fridge, though, and it made for a satisfying and cooling mid-afternoon snack. I sat by an open window in my apartment, snacking on the raw zucchini and contemplating the rising stack of literary magazines on my coffee table. (They just keep arriving in the mail and I've been averaging, like, one short story every three days. It's absurd.).

I topped this off with purple micro radish, which has been a favorite ever since I discovered it at the market earlier this spring. If you can't find micro radish, substitute any other variety of micro greens or even sliced, spicy radishes. The shredded zucchini is the foundation, but the other ingredients are pretty flexible.

The one step you shouldn't neglect is salting the zucchini before you dress it. Zucchini releases more water than you might expect. In fact, as soon as you slice into it, little mercury beads of sweat begin to appear on the cut surface. And when you dress the salad and add salt, it will release even more moisture, diluting the dressing. Definitely salt the zucchini beforehand. 

Shredded Zucchini Salad (v/gf)

Lightly adapted from Cuisine Niçoise

Serves 4

4 zucchini, unpeeled

2 cups cherry tomatoes

1 cup micro radish (or other micro greens)

1/2 cup basil

1 tbsp champagne vinegar 

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 tbsp olive oil

sea salt, pepper

Wash and trim the zucchini (no need to peel). Grate the zucchini on a box grater or process in a food processor with the shredding attachment. Toss the zucchini with 1/2 tsp salt in a colander. Set aside to drain for 30 minutes. 

Whisk together the champagne vinegar, mustard, lemon juice, and olive oil. 

Wash and halve or quarter the cherry tomatoes. 

Drain the zucchini and squeeze out all of the extra liquid. You can either wrap up the zucchini in a clean kitchen towel and wring it dry or just use your hands for the task. 

Toss the zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and vinaigrette together. Adjust the seasoning, adding more lemon juice or vinegar. It should taste bright and refreshing, not dull or chalky. Add more salt, if needed. 

Chill for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Chiffonade the basil: stack the leaves like a deck of cards, roll them up into a cigar (or yoga mat) and slice into 1/4-inch thick ribbons.

To serve, portion out 1 cup of the salad on each plate. Scatter micro radish and basil over the salad and drizzle with additional olive oil.

Store in the fridge for up to two days.

Note: Substitute white balsamic, white wine, or red wine vinegar for the champagne vinegar, if necessary. The zucchini should be pretty salty after draining so you may not need to add additional salt to the salad.