This easy Garlic Scape Pesto recipe comes together in less than ten minutes. With an intense garlic flavor balanced with fresh herbs and olive oil, it's a great way to make use of one of spring's true gems.
What are garlic scapes?
Garlic scapes are the flowers of the hardneck garlic plant. They pop up at farmer's markets during the springtime. When farmers cut the scapes, it forces the plant to send its energy downward, which then produces larger bulbs and plumper garlic cloves.
The scape has a long, serpentine stem that curls toward the flower bud. It tastes of fresh garlic and green onions. Its flavor is slightly lighter than garlic cloves, and it works as an excellent stand-in for them. You can add them to stir-fries, ferment them, or use them any place you'd add fresh garlic.
Pesto is an excellent way to use the entire garlic scape, minimizing waste. You'll use everything from the curly stem to the plump flower bud but may also need to discard the woody bottom or fibrous tip.
Why this recipe works
- Garlic marries well with parsley and basil. The scape (or flower bud) is lighter in flavor than garlic bulbs and has fresh notes similar to green onions.
- It's easy to make. You'll chop the ingredients coarsely and then let the food processor do the rest of the work.
- Garlic scape pesto freezes well, so you can make several jars and then tuck it in the freezer to enjoy throughout the year.
- Garlic scapes tend to be tough, especially those harvested later in the season. Puréeing them as required by this pesto sauce recipe is an excellent way to work with those tough stems.
What's in it?
The ingredients for this garlic scape pesto recipe are similar to those for classic Pesto Genovese (aka Basil Pesto). You'll find plenty of olive oil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and basil. But there's also flat-leaf parsley, too, and far more garlic scapes than you'd use fresh garlic cloves.
- Fresh garlic scapes are the foundation of this pesto recipe. While the scapes have a lighter, fresher flavor than garlic cloves, using so much makes this pesto intensely garlicky.
- Fresh herbs include basil which is a natural match for garlic, as well as flat-leaf parsley, whose clean, green notes help soften the garlic flavor and bring balance to the pesto.
- Extra virgin olive oil helps carry flavor, and it also acts as an emulsifier that helps all the other ingredients come together in a smooth pesto.
- Parmesan cheese gives a subtle salty-umami note to the pesto. For the best flavor, use Parmigiano Reggiano.
- Pine nuts are a traditional addition to basil pesto and a great addition to garlic scape pesto. They lend a buttery flavor and delicate creaminess that helps bring all the ingredients together when blended.
Where to find real extra virgin olive oil.
Graza offers single-origin, hand-harvested olive oil from Spain that's perfect for this recipe. They offer buttery, lightly flavored olive oil for sautéing and a more robust green oil for drizzling as a finishing oil.
Is it good for you?
Garlic, herbs, nuts, and olive oil are the mainstays of the much-lauded Mediterranean diet. They're rich in anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants.
Garlic is rich in antioxidant compounds that help calm inflammation. Researchers have found that it supports both cardiovascular and gut health, too (1).
Parsley and basil are both rich in antioxidants, as well as beta carotene and vitamin K.
Parmesan is a good source of the amino acid L-tyrosine and helps to form important neurotransmitters that help govern mood and stress response as well as various hormones (2).
Extra virgin olive oil is rich in antioxidants and monounsaturated fat. Its benefits are well-studied, and it may help to support our brains and bodies as we age (4, 5).
Making garlic scape pesto is easy, and you only have to follow a few steps. First, you chop all the ingredients. Then you'll add them to a food processor along with plenty of olive oil. That's it.
Here are a few tips you'll want to keep in mind:
- Snip the tip of the flower at the top of the garlic scape, where it turns papery and fibrous. That's because your food processor will have a hard time chopping it.
- If the bottom of the garlic scape is tough and woody, trim it off.
- Chop garlic scapes and herbs coarsely. One-inch pieces work well, as they will produce a more consistent texture than larger chunks.
- Over-processing the pesto will make the olive oil taste bitter, so make sure the ingredients are well chopped by the food processor before adding the olive oil.
- A little goes a long way. While the scapes have a fairly mild garlic flavor when compared to garlic cloves, you use so many of them in this recipe that the overall effect is intense (and delicious). A little goes a long way, and aim to serve about 1 tablespoon per person.
How to Serve Garlic Scape Pesto
- Spoon the pesto into a bowl and serve it as a dip instead of hummus. Serve it with chopped fresh vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes or with crackers and toasted sourdough bread.
- Swirl it into a bowl of soup for extra interest. It would taste delicious partnered with this cranberry bean soup or this tomato and white bean soup. It's one of the most delicious ways to give a little life to an otherwise humble pot of soup.
- Use it as a sandwich spread instead of mayonnaise.
- Drizzle the pesto over roasted vegetables such as roasted plum tomatoes. It would also pair well with roasted potatoes, too.
- Swirl a tablespoon or two into pasta salad or potato salad to bring a little dimension to these dishes.
Get the cookbook.
Vibrant Botanicals is our gorgeous botanically-focused cookbook that guides you through simple herbal recipes like this one. Order it online or through your local bookshop.
Variations + Substitutions
Swap in sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, or even walnuts for pine nuts. They're less expensive options and just as delicious (and nutritious).
For a dairy-free version, add a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast or even a teaspoon of miso paste to the pesto instead of parmesan.
While the flavor won't be quite the same, you'll still capture the lovely umami flavor that parmesan contributes to the pesto recipe. This substitution also works if you're planning to make a vegan garlic scape pesto.
Crushed red pepper flakes can bring a pleasant heat to the recipe and are a nice addition.
If you find that this garlic scape pesto needs a little acidity, you can always add a squeeze of lemon juice or a spoonful of white wine vinegar.
Try swapping in some kale or fresh nettle for the basil leaves and parsley. Pesto is a great way to use up these nutrient-rich spring greens, too.
Garlic scapes are in season from late spring to early summer. If you don't grow your own garlic, you can buy the scapes at well-stocked natural foods grocers and farmer's markets. You might just find them in your CSA share, too.
Store garlic scape pesto in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week and in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Yes! This garlic scape pesto recipe is perfect for the freezer. Tuck it into a tightly sealed jar or spoon it into small freezer bags, label it, and freeze it for up to 6 months.
Alternatively, you can spoon the pesto into an ice cube tray, freeze it, and then remove the cubes. This way, you'll store it in individual portions, which will allow you to use only a little at a time.
Pine nuts have a smooth, buttery flavor that work particularly well in this pesto recipe. But they are expensive. You can use sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or walnuts instead.
Try these recipes next
- Ried, Karin. “Garlic lowers blood pressure in hypertensive subjects, improves arterial stiffness and gut microbiota: A review and meta-analysis.” Experimental and therapeutic medicine vol. 19,2 (2020).
- "Tyrosine." Mount Sinai. (2022)
- Angeloni, Cristina et al. “Bioactivity of Olive Oil Phenols in Neuroprotection.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 18,11 2230
- Fernández del Río, Lucía et al. “Olive Oil and the Hallmarks of Aging.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 21,2 163. 29 Jan. 2016,