Ah, summer. Farmers markets are hopping, CSAs start up again, and access to über fresh and local produce is finally easy once more. Except that in the first days of summer, the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and squash we love to gobble up aren’t ready yet. Instead, vegetables and herbs that may be less familiar — pak choi, fiddleheads, ramps, and garlic scapes — still grace the stands.
I’ve learned two tricks over the years when it comes to approaching cooking with new foods and both have served me well. First, ask the vendor. What is this? To what is it similar? How do you like to cook with it? They almost always steer you in the right direction.
Second, use the food that is new to you in a familiar recipe as a starting point, and swap one ingredient with the new food to which you think it might be similar. Never cooked with fava beans? Well, they’re good and meaty, why not try them in a hummus instead of chickpeas? This isn’t fail-proof, but frankly, what is, when it comes to cooking?
Last year was the first year I had ever seen a garlic scape. It was described by my CSA newsletter as having the flavor of garlic, but milder. The scapes were a beautiful, vibrant green. I bit into one (another, perhaps obvious tip, is to taste it) and thought I needed to find a way to use them raw and savor that freshness.
Chimichurri is a sauce originally from Argentina, which is traditionally served with grilled meats (but is phenomenal with baked tofu or grilled veggies, for my vegetarian friends out there). A huge amount of fresh herbs are packed into it, making it a flavor explosion for your taste buds. You can use it to top meats fresh from the summer grill session or as a marinade for tougher cuts before you cook them. Garlic cloves are typically used, but spring’s lovely garlic scapes are a wonderful, more substitution that allows all of the herbs to sing out in harmony. Rock on with your bad self, scapes.
Garlic Scape Chimichurri
Yield: about 1 1/2 cups sauce
1 large bunch parsley, washed, leaves and thin stems roughly chopped
1/4 cup loose packed fresh oregano (or 2 teaspoons dried oregano)
About 1/2 cup chopped garlic scapes
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flake
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
The juice of 1/2 lime
3/4 cup quality extra-virgin olive oil
Add parsley, oregano, scapes, salt, pepper, pepper flake, vinegar, and lime juice to the bowl of a food processor or blender. Pulse until everything is a thick paste-like consistency. You may have to stop and scrape down the sides a few times. (You can do this by hand, but you will need to mince together all of the herbs and spices until very fine and then add in the vinegar.)
Slowly stream in olive oil until well combined.
Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate. Mixture will be best if left to sit overnight before using, to allow flavors to combine. This can be stored 1-2 weeks in the fridge.
Christina Vanoverbeke is a Minneapolis transplant, by way of Youngstown, Ohio, and Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz. She is a reformed newspaper reporter turned freelance Jill of all trades. She works in health and wellness fundraising by day and runs the cooking blog Cautiously Domestic by night.