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Fresh from the garden: garlic scapes and sour cherries

  • Sour cherries.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Sour cherries.

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Sour cherry and pistachio tart.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Sour cherry and pistachio tart.

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Garlic scapes<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Garlic scapes

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Sour cherries.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Sour cherry and pistachio tart.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Garlic scapes<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

A few weeks ago I met a woman who on hearing my name said, “You’re the one who writes those recipes that are too hard to make!”

Ouch. The problem is, I love to cook. For me, making dinner is fun. And then, my children are grown and, for the most part, out of the house. I don’t rush in from work and have hungry, crabby kids to feed as quickly as possible.

But I do have an old house in constant need of maintenance, and a too-big garden to tend. It occurs to me, particularly at this time of year, that simpler recipes can be just as pleasurable to make and eat, and I can wind up with a little extra time to do all those chores I’ve been avoiding, like weeding the onions and painting the window sills.

The key is using the freshest, most flavorful ingredients available. This week in my garden, it was garlic scapes and sour cherries. The cherries are especially delicious, because they taste like victory – the first harvest we’ve had from our young trees, after discovering the wonders of netting to keep out the bugs and the birds.

Sour cherries, such as Montmorency and Balaton, aren’t meant to be eaten out of hand like their sweet cousins Queen Ann and Bing. Sour cherry juice (often sold as “tart cherry juice”) is touted as a super-antioxidant, good for arthritis and, because it contains melatonin, as a sleep-aid. In recipes, sour cherries are usually cooked and sweetened. I’ve been putting them by for winter, in everything from chutney to liqueur.

Sour cherries are also the classic pie cherry, but because their season is short, and they don’t travel well, unless you grow your own, or know a farmer who sells locally, you will usually encounter them frozen or in a can.

Because sour cherries release a lot of juice when cooked, too often they are over-thickened with cornstarch or tapioca in pies. I’ve solved the problem by cooking them in an open-faced tart over a nut-rich layer that absorbs the juice. Feel free to substitute frozen cherries in the recipe, or use fresh sweet cherries tossed with lemon juice instead.

Garlic scapes are the stem and flower bud sent up by certain kinds of garlic at this time of year. Farmers cut them off so the garlic bulb grows bigger rather than putting energy into flowering. The stems are delicious, though larger stems can be tough. Simply bend the stem, as you would asparagus, to snap off the tough part, or use a vegetable peeler to take off the thick skin. I usually cut off the flower bud, too, but you don’t have to, as long as you trim off the stringy tip.

Garlic scape pesto is, I think, even more delicious than the basil-rich classic. The recipe is flexible, so monkey around with it to make it to your taste, and do feel free to use whatever nuts or herbs you have on hand. If you happen to have lots of scapes on hand, make a giant batch and pop some in the freezer. You’ll be glad you did when you’re savoring a taste of summer in the dead of winter.

Sour Cherry Pistachio Tart

crust for a 9 inch pie shell, rolled out to a round about 10 inches across

1∕2 pound fresh sour cherries, stemmed and pitted (about 2 cups), or the same amount of sweet cherries, tossed with the juice of 1 lemon, or frozen cherries (do not let them thaw before using, or all the juice will drain away)

3∕4 cup shelled, roasted, pistachios (lightly salted, if desired, preferably with sea salt)

1∕4 cup sugar plus 3 tablespoons for sprinkling

2 tablespoons flour

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the rolled out round of pie crust on the baking sheet and refrigerate.

Place the pistachios, 1∕4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons flour in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until mixture is about the consistency of coarse cornmeal.

Spread the nut mixture over the pie crust, leaving about 11∕2 inches around the edges bare. Spread the pitted cherries over the nut mixture, again leaving the edges bare. Sprinkle the cherries with about 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Fold the edges of the dough over the edge of the cherries. Sprinkle the top of the dough with the remaining sugar and place the tart in the oven. Lower the heat to 375 degrees.

Bake for about 40 minutes, turning once so it browns evenly. If the dough is browning too quickly, lower the heat to 350 degrees. The tart is done when the bottom of the crust is golden brown and the cherries have released their juices and are bubbling a bit around the edges.

Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting. Makes 8 slices.

Garlic Scape Pesto

5 large garlic scapes, tough ends and bud end removed

1∕2 cup extra virgin olive oil (more or less, as desired)

juice of half a lemon (more if desired)

1∕4 cup walnuts

1∕2 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano

handful of washed parsley leaves

handful of washed basil leaves

1∕2 teaspoon sea salt

Cut the scapes into pieces and place them in the bowl of a food processor with the olive oil and lemon juice. Pulse until the scapes are pureed. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse again until pureed (I like it a little chunky). Taste for seasonings and adjust if desired.

This pesto can be frozen for several months, or will keep in the refrigerator for a few days. It is delicious in any number of ways: on pasta, as a sandwich spread, as vegetable dip or as an ingredient in salad dressing. Use your imagination.

Makes about 11∕2 cups.

Legacy Comments1

It's tough being a good cook. No one ever invites you to dinner. Don't let it get you down. Your recipes are the only ones in the Monitor worth trying.

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