Food headlines hardly bring comfort these days: tales of lost harvests, hunger riots, agrichemical runoff, tainted pork and tomatoes

A society’s foodways surely reveal something about its quality of life. From studying the industrial-food system, as I do, it’s easy to conclude that we live in a brutal culture: content to destroy the ecosystem, exploit labor, and torture animals to produce unhealthy but profitable food.

When such dark musings grip me, I try to remember to take pleasure and comfort in small things. Industrial agriculture has in many ways consolidated its grip over our land. Profits for agribiz giants like Monsanto, Cargill, Mosaic, and Potash of Saskatchewan have reached epochal levels.

And yet, people are fighting back — starting small-scale farm operations, joining community gardens, turning over lawns to put in veggies patches, and going out of their way to buy directly from farmers whose practices they trust.

I find consolation for the brutalities of existence in the kitchen and at the table. Right now, nothing is soothing me more than the early-summer bounty of the garlic harvest. Across much of the country, now is when garlic plants are sending up the green flowering shoot called the scape. Farmers and gardeners snip it off to concentrate the plant’s energy into its below-ground bulb. Turns out that scapes deliver great garlic flavor — as well as an additional source of income for farmers.

Now’s also the time for green garlic — the immature bulb of the garlic plant, harvested before it . It’s the lb before it has developed has fully developed  cloves. To me, it’s the purest, freshest way to experience garlic’s blissful pungence.

Get thee to the farmers market and find some green garlic and scapes. Here’s a great recent article in The New York Times on how to use these special, quintessentially seasonal ingredients. And below find two recipes from my short-lived cooking blog Maverick Eats.

Pasta with sauteed bitter greens, scapes, and green garlic
1 pound dry pasta (spaghetti, farfalle, linguini, whatever is on hand)
2 large handfuls greens (such as kale, chard, or mature arugula or spinach), bunched and sliced into ribbons
2-3 garlic scapes, trimmed of tough part, cut into half-inch pieces
One stalk green garkic, peeled, and chopped fine
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted for a few minutes at 300 F and chopped coarsely
Extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Crushed chile flakes
Red-wine or balsamic vinegar
Parmeson-style cheese for grating

Put water on highest heat for pasta; prepare ingredients as stated above. Put a skillet (large enough to handle the greens) on low heat. Add a little more than enough olive oil to cover the bottom, and add garlic, scapes, a pinch or two of chile, a pinch or two of salt, and a vigorous grind of black pepper. Give it all a stir, and let it cook until garlic and scapes are sizzling and fragrant; be careful not to let the garlic brown. Add the greens and turn heat to medium, tossing the greens so that they’re coated in the garlic-scented oil. (When the water boils, which might be about now, salt it well and add the pasta.) Now cover the greens and turn heat to low. Cook, checking and stirring often, until the greens are tender. Once they’re tender, remove from heat and taste. If the flavor is bitter, give them a splash of vinegar or lemon juice. Once the pasta is done, drain it and return it to its pot. Scrape the cooked greens into the pot, the walnuts, and a healthy splash of olive oil. Toss and taste; correct for salt and pepper. Serve. Pass the cheese and grater at table, and be sure to have a bottle of olive oil handy.

Pasta with scape pesto and sardines

 

1 pound dry pasta, such as spaghetti
Extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup to 1 cup garlic scape pesto (see below), to taste
1 tin good-quality sardines packed in olive oil
A pinch or two of crushed red chile flakes
Sea salt
Black pepper
2 oz fresh goat’s cheese (optional)

Put pasta water on to boil over highest heat. Put a large skillet on medium low heat, and add enough olive oil to cover bottom. Add chile flakes and a grind of pepper. Add pesto, working it into the olive oil with a wooden spoon. Open the can of sardines. With a fork, lift the sardines one by one out of the can–letting them drain a second or two of the olive oil they were stored in–and drop them directly into the pan. When they’re all in there, use the wooden spoon to smush the sardines into the pesto. What you’ll end up with is a kind of coarse–and quite fragrant–sauce. Remove from heat. When the pasta water boils, salt it liberally. (Mario Batali, the famed New York chef, says it should have the salinity of seawater.) Add the pasta to the water when it returns to a rolling boil. Just before the pasta is al dente, take a ladle and scoop up a cup or so of the pasta water; add it to the sardine sauce and stir it in. Now drain the pasta and, return it to its pot (which will be empty of water but steamy hot). Scrape in the sardine sauce, add a dash of olive oil and a grind of pepper (hold off on salt here; you’ve already added salted pasta water, and the sardines can be briny). Toss, and correct for seasoning. Serve.
Optional note: Though no Sicilian would do it, we’ve found a way to make this dish even more delicious. When you’ve dumped the pasta into the colander and you have a steamy but empty pot, add 2 oz fresh goat cheese and immediately dump the pasta on top. This will melt the cheese. When you toss the pasta after adding the sardine sauce, you’ll be incorporating the cheese.

scape pesto
1 pound scapes, trimmed of tough flower part and chopped coarsely
I handful Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted in a 300 F oven
sea salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil

Combine first five ingredients in a food processor and process for 30 seconds or so. Scrape down sides of bowl and process again. With the blade running, add a thin stream of oil until a paste forms. Scrape down sides of bowl and process again, adding more olive oil if needed.