Sometimes the best place to find ingenuity is in the last place we look — the old standards we continue to rely on to show us who we are.
When Michael Jackson and white chocolate both line up in your crosshairs in the same week, there’s only one possible conclusion. Someone, somewhere is trying to get you to think long and hard about the Eighties. The only question is why.
MJ’s sudden death last week transported many a mind, radio station and weekend-long house party back to the era of Thriller. But an equally formidable presence in my own mind, via the pantry (with a layover at my genuine but insane impression of the relative importance of food), was a 12-ounce bag of white chocolate chips bought for a recipe that only used two tablespoons of the stuff for an icing. I haven’t had much use for white chocolate since the Eighties, so the idea of drizzling an astounding 11.8 more ounces worth of glaze over all of my earthly possessions, family members, friends and acquaintances didn’t hold a tremendous amount of appeal. The question remained: if not a home decor or family bonding opportunity and not a midnight snack, what was the purpose of those chips? I put my mind to finding out. Maybe a little too intently.
Still, when I closed my eyes, the answer appeared.
Summer of 1985. Listening to Top 40 on WPLJ in the cafetorium of Crim elementary school while (rising young star that I am) working on my claymation video and macrame projects for summer art class. Every time a song or a set of commercials ends I put down my rope-and-bead planter (yeah!) or clay-and-wire ants (aww yeah!), cross my fingers and hope against hope that the next song will be We are the World. Over the course of the afternoon, the song plays two or three times. Then, somehow, I am eating a large white chocolate lollipop in the shape of a heart which, in the moment, offers stiff competition in the Greatest Gift of All category.
Ultimately, only one of these loves will last. And for once, it’s not the food.
When MJ did music, he did it right. He did it so right I almost didn’t notice, because there wasn’t a single note of discordance to throw the rightness into relief. That’s why I needed the white chocolate. From the same time and place as MJ, it had all the same potential, but in the end it just didn’t deliver. (What can you expect from chocolate with the chocolate removed, I guess?) Some people are good at noticing beauty even as it nears perfection. They’re easy to find, because they don’t need to be told that Nicole Kidman is gorgeous. Sometimes I wish I could spot that kind of beauty more easily. At the very least, it would’ve saved me a few hours this week.
All week I tried hard to want a new use for garlic scapes. This blog is only a little over a year old, and it’s already got a recipe for scape pesto. Surely, I kept thinking, I should be offering you double garlic soup or beef stir fry with scape sauce this time around. But the thing is, I love scape pesto. Last year we made pints and pints of it, straight up; some with walnuts, some with pine nuts, all spiked with a bit of lemon. It froze beautifully, and in January and February and March, with the rest of the world crumbling around us, it warmed our bellies and brightened our spirits with the promise of spring. Truly, it did. Who would want to mess with that?
So I’ve decided that in tribute to MJ, Nicole and all the other art forms out there literally blinding me with their beauty, I’m going to recognize a good thing when I see it for once and leave well enough alone. If you’re looking for the highest and best use of a big handful or six of scapes, I think this is it. We found last year that it mellowed a bit in the freezer, to nice effect. If you plan to eat it fresh and want a slightly milder experience, toss in some extra pine nuts, along with a generous handful of parsley and one of basil, before pulsing the mixture in the food processor. Add up to 1/4 cup more olive oil if necessary to achieve the consistency you’re after. The quantities are approximate and are easily adjusted to suit your taste.
There’s almost nothing you could eat for lunch or dinner that wouldn’t benefit from a healthy spoonful of this pesto on top. Already this week, we’ve eaten it tucked into classic French omelets and atop a ham frittata, served over grass-fed sirloin tips and salad, and smeared onto sourdough bread. I’ve got designs on some pesto chicken burgers for tomorrow night, and when the weather cools off, we’ll be tossing it with pasta. In fact, the only thing you won’t catch me serving it with is white chocolate.
Garlic Scape Pesto
(Reprinted from June, 2008)
3/4 cup coarsely chopped garlic scapes
1/4 cup pine nuts
Juice and Zest of 1/2 lemon
3/4 teaspoon salt
Grinds of black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
Lightly toast the pine nuts in a small, dry pan over very low heat, until just starting to brown, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. Combine the scapes, pine nuts, lemon juice and zest, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse about 20 times, until fairly well combined. Pour in the olive oil slowly through the feed tube while the motor is running. When emulsified, remove to a bowl and stir in the grated cheese.
(Oh go ahead, watch it. You know you want to.)