This garlic scape lemon balm pesto is a slight twist from your regular pesto. This recipe combines garlic scapes with lemon balm for an early garden fresh variation. Spoon this pesto on pasta, seafood, and even sandwiches.
Pesto is extremely versatile. In fact, I rarely stick exactly to a recipe. Instead, I tend to wing it adding a handful of this and that, and process, taste, and adjust to my liking.
The basic foundations of pesto are edible foliage, oily nuts, firm cheese, olive oil, garlic, plus a bit of flavoring from lemon, salt, and pepper. Any combination of these ingredients can be processed into a flavorful pesto.
My garden basil is late this year, but the lemon balm is prolific. So when the garlic scapes emerged and began twisting into loops, I snapped them off and satisfied my pesto craze using lemon balm in place of the traditional basil. It was delicious.
Tips for Making Garlic Scape Lemon Balm Pesto
What the heck are garlic scapes?
Hardneck garlic sends up a flower stalk about three weeks before the garlic bulb is ready for harvesting. This stalk is called a garlic scape. The garlic scape is edible and has a lovely, mild garlic flavor with a hint of sweetness.
If you don’t grow your own garlic, you can find garlic scapes at local farmer’s markets when they are in season.
If you don’t have garlic scapes but want to try this recipe, consider substituting green garlic or even garlic chives. Both provide the mild garlic flavor that combines well with the herby lemon balm.
Of course, even traditional garlic cloves will work. Simply increase the amount of lemon balm to 1 1/2 cups and substitute 3-4 cloves of garlic.
Tap into the natural lemon flavor of lemon balm:
The lemon flavor from the lemon balm adds a nice mild flavor to the pesto. Lemon balances and brightens the taste of pesto. If you are topping fish or seafood with pesto, you may want extra lemony flavor, consider adding lemon juice or lemon zest to taste.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a perennial herb with lemon-flavored foliage. It is in the mint family, so tends to grow abundantly in the garden. It also tolerates partly shady areas.
Nuts and seeds make the pesto creamy:
Nuts and seeds add a rich earthy flavor and creaminess to the pesto. Nuts are the reason the pesto clings to pasta instead of slipping off. While pine nuts are traditional for Italian pesto, other nuts and seeds work as well and add lots of flavor.
This recipe uses sunflower seeds because they are easy to find and inexpensive. Also consider trying almonds, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, or walnuts.
Taste the pesto before adding salt if you are using salted nuts. Between the saltiness of the cheese and salty nuts, you may not need to add additional salt.
Select a hard, aged cheese for rich flavor:
Freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano adds a distinctive flavor and saltiness to pesto. Also consider other types of hard aged cheeses such as Asiago or Pecorino Romano.
Choose a good-quality oil:
The classic oil for making pesto is extra-virgin olive oil. The fruity and herby flavor pairs well with the other pesto ingredients. Avocado oil has a milder flavor and would also be a good option if you don’t like the strong flavor or olive oil.
How to Make Garlic Scape Lemon Balm Pesto
The quickest way to make a pesto is using a food processor. Wash and measure out your ingredients ahead of time and the steps to making the pesto will be quick:
Prepare the ingredients
Wash the garlic scapes and lemon balm under cool running water. Spread them out on a clean kitchen towel to air-dry.
Cut the garlic scapes into one-inch pieces. Trim off the flower tops and remove the ends of the garlic scapes if they are woody. To remove the ends, gently bend each stalk until it snaps. The garlic scape will snap off right above the spot where it turns woody.
- Tip: Save the garlic scape ends and tops in the freezer for chicken stock.
Pull the lemon balm leaves from the stems and pack lightly into a measuring cup.
Grate your cheese, measure the remaining ingredients, and set up your food processor.
Steps to Make the Pesto
- Place the prepared garlic scapes in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they are broken down, about 30 seconds.
- Add the nuts and pulse until they are combined with the garlic scapes, about 15 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber scraper.
- Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and turn on the food processor on to blend. Turn it off and scrape the sides again.
- Add the lemon balm leaves, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.
- Turn on the food processor and blend until it reaches the desired texture. Add more olive oil if you want a thinner pesto.
- Taste and adjust if needed. You should be able to taste every element of the pesto, from the lemon balm to the nuts, and olive oil.
Use immediately, store in the refrigerator, or freeze for later.
A slight twist from your regular pesto, this recipe combines garlic scapes with lemon balm for an early garden fresh variation. Spoon this garlic scape lemon balm pesto on pasta, seafood, and even sandwiches.
- 1 cup chopped garlic scapes (about 8 or 9), top flower part removed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds or other nut of choice
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus extra for topping
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon balm leaves
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese or other hard cheese of choice
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Place the garlic scapes in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they are broken down, about 30 seconds.
Add the nuts and pulse until they are combined with the garlic scapes, about 15 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber scraper.
Turn the food processor to blend, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Turn it off the processor and scrape the sides again.
Add the lemon balm leaves, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and process until it reaches the desired texture. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
Use immediately, store in the refrigerator, or freeze for later.
To refrigerate: Pour the pesto into glass jars, top with olive oil, cover and store in the refrigerator for about a week.
To freeze: Pack into freezer safe containers, label, and freeze for up to one year.
Makes about one cup of garlic scape lemon balm pesto.
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