Alluring alliums are endlessly enchanting and, yes, edible
Garlic may have a reputation for warding off vampires and other evil spirits, but it also may protect against disease, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. The same is true for garlic scapes or the unopened flower buds on so-called hard neck varieties of garlic appearing in gardens and markets now.
Growers cut off the scape so that the plant puts its energy into growing nice big bulbs instead of flowering and eventually forming seed-like bulbils. These scapes are delicious grilled, pickled or starring in pesto, as detailed in the recipe that follows.
Another edible allium flower is the chive. Many people grow these for the leaves but don't realize they can eat those pretty purple spheres. If you have backyard chives that you know have not been treated with pesticides or herbicides, you can pick them as soon as they blossom until they fade and prepare to set seed. (Pro tip: don't let them get so far as to seed, or you will have chives popping up next spring in every part of your garden.)
Use the whole flowers or individual florets to add a pop of flavor and color to scrambled eggs, biscuits or deviled eggs. Or mix them into cream cheese for an unexpected addition to a cheeseboard. However, the most popular and beautiful way to use them is to infuse them in vinegar, which is so easy it hardly qualifies as a "recipe." Read on to learn the technique I use.
Some kids don't like the pungency of garlic and onions, but both the pesto and the vinegar infusion temper the strength of scapes and chives. If they are allowed to harvest them, all the better. Most kids are told NOT to pick the flowers, so it's a small thrill when they can.
More fun for the junior set is using the salad spinner to dry the chives. If they are wet when the vinegar is added, the result is cloudy. We are going for a translucent, violet finished product, and the salad spinner can help with that.
Pesto is a very flexible recipe. As long as the basic ratio of green stuff to nuts, cheese, and oil is kept, you can use various ingredients based on what's in the pantry or what you like. Here we used fresh dill, oregano and tarragon along with the scapes because that's what was available in the garden. I had the remains of a bag of walnuts and some pistachios to add to the more traditional pine nuts. And feel free to experiment with different hard cheeses, too. The herbs made the garlic scape mellower but the pesto more vibrant. It was terrific in a broccoli pasta for an easy meatless meal. It's also good on pizza and grilled salmon or used as a schmear on a turkey sandwich.
I keep an eye on any interesting glass food jars or bottles as I use up their contents and soak off the labels to use as vessels for the vinegar. Anything with a cork, cap or lid will work but avoid metal. The vinegar will react with it, affecting the taste. If that's all you have, you can slip in a square of waxed paper between the top of the jar and the lid to prevent them from coming into contact. I grow a lot of chives, so double or quadruple the recipe. I make the infusion in large Mason jars then decant the strained vinegar into smaller, more elegant bottles. Have the kids tie on a label using twine, and you have a lovely homemade gift they can proudly present to the lucky recipient.
You can combine both condiments to make a sensational salad dressing. Simply whisk a tablespoon of pesto into the chive vinegar and use it in salads or as a topper to perk up fresh vegetables. If you aren't going to eat the pesto within a few days, you can freeze it, but do so before adding the cheese. Add that after defrosting for future uses, if you like.
Whichever way you enjoy them, I encourage you to eat your alliums while their short season is upon us.
• Leslie Meredith is the winner of the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge and teaches people how to grow and cook "real" food. She runs Farmhouse School on a historic homestead in Campton Hills. See the school's Facebook or Instagram pages @FarmhouseSchool or contact Leslie at email@example.com.
Garlic Scape Pesto
A bunch of about 10 scapes, chopped into 2-in pieces (stems and flower heads)
1/3 cup fresh herbs (basil, dill, tarragon, oregano and/or parsley)
1/3 cup pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios and/or sunflower seeds
Juice from ½ a lemon
1/3 cup shredded cheese (Parmesan, Asiago, or another aged, hard cheese)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a food processor or blender, add scapes, herbs, nuts, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pulse until blended. Scrape down the walls with a rubber spatula as needed. With blades running, drizzle in olive oil slowly so that it emulsifies and pesto is smooth. If not using immediately, place in a lidded container and top with a thin layer of olive oil. This will prevent the browning that comes with oxidation. Store in the fridge for up to a week.
Makes 24 tablespoon-sized servings.
Chive Blossom Vinegar
2 cups of chive blossoms, stems removed, rinsed and fully dry
1½ cups white vinegar (white wine or even plain distilled white vinegar)
Fill a pint jar with the blossoms. Don't worry about manhandling them; you want them to release their oil, so a little bruising is good. Pour the vinegar over the blossoms, ensuring that they are covered, leaving some room at the top of the jar. Use a chopstick or spoon to fully submerge the blossoms. Store in a cupboard or someplace away from light or heat for 10-14 days. Once you are happy with the color and flavor, strain the infusion into a clean glass bottle or jar (it does not require sterilization.) Cork or seal, avoiding metal lids or inserting a wax paper square between the bottle and the lid to prevent the vinegar from reacting with the metal. Compost the spent blossoms. Will keep for up to 6 months in the fridge or a cool basement.
Makes 1 pint