There’s nothing like a bowl of cold savory soup in hot weather, and until the day we do a post on jellied madrilene, this Chilled Garlic Scape and Buttermilk Soup will have to stand in. It’s a wrinkle on vichyssoise, close enough to feel familiar, but with a few turns you might not have expected, like scapes and buttermilk.
The world of garlic may be conveniently divided into hardneck and softneck varieties. If you’ve ever bought a head of garlic and found the bulbs packed around a hard stiff stem, you’ve used hardneck garlic. About a month after planting all garlic produces shoots, but only hardneck varieties produce the curlicue shoot with the pointed bulbil, or flower bulb, at the tip. Although the bulbil doesn’t produce actual flowers, it does turn into a seed packet. Typically the scape is cut so that the plant’s energy goes into the bulbs instead of the green Six Flags loop de loop of a scape. The hard stem you find at the center of some bulbs is what’s left of the scape.
The flavor of scapes is milder than of fresh cloves–think of it as the pastel option in the garlic Crayola box. You can grill, stir-fry, or sauté scapes, use them to make pesto or, if they’re young enough, simply eat them raw in salads.
We tested this recipe over two days, with two different batches of scapes, which conveniently illustrated a couple of things worth noting. As they get older scapes grow stalkier, stiffer. When still young, that is, before they’ve completed a curl, they’re quite malleable, you can slice them crosswise and sprinkle them raw over fish or salad or soup the same way you do with chives. The base of the stems, unless very young, is too hard to use, so just snap it off, like an asparagus stalk. When I took the photographs of the completed soup, the scapes were too mature for the slice-and-sprinkle-like-chives approach (chewy garnish, anyone?). In fact, several days later I decided to try out a recipe a young farmer suggested to me–sautéed scapes with an egg on top. I thought I’d sweat the sliced scape rounds in a little butter, then add an egg on top. Unfortunately, the schwitz didn’t do the trick. I followed Jody’s suggestion to add a little water to soften them up. They were delicious, and caramelized a deep brown when I finished, but I could never have eaten them raw. The moral of the story is, buy scapes as young as possible. Also, this represents a modest step in the direction of garlic for the soup–if you want a more pronounced garlic flavor use more scapes and/or stir in more pesto. Or do what I did–stir in some pesto, then add more for a garnish.
Just by chance–we hadn’t yet planned this post–I happened to photograph scapes au naturel at Chef Melissa Kelly’s farm, which Jody and I visited a few weeks ago. We hope to do a post on our trip to Primo, Melissa’s restaurant and her adjacent farm in Rockland, Maine. In the meantime, you’ll just have to make do with her scapes.
Chilled Garlic Scape and Buttermilk Soup
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1¾ cups chopped scapes
- 2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white part
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups sliced peeled potatoes, about 1 pound
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 2 cups buttermilk
- ½ cup parsley leaves
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Heat the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. When the foam subsides, add 1½ cups scapes and the leeks and reduce the heat to medium-low. Season with salt and pepper, cover with a round of parchment, and cook 8-10 minutes or until tender, but not browned.
- Add the potatoes and the chicken stock, increase the heat to medium-high, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat so the stock simmers. Cook 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Puree with a hand held blender or in a food processor.
- Stir in the buttermilk. “Season to taste, oversalting very slightly as salt loses savor in a cold dish. Chill.” (This is a direct quote from Julia.)
- Combine the remaining ¼ cup scapes, parsley and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor with the olive oil. Puree until smooth. Season to taste with salt.
- Serve the soup in chilled bowls and decorate with a swirl of pesto.
In setting out to write this recipe, I went directly to a tried and true recipe in a book I love, Julia Child’s vichyssoise from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” There it was, waiting for me like an old friend. It was like walking along the railroad tracks at the beginning of a summer. Something I hadn’t done in a long time, yet so familiar the groove was still there.
Julia observes: “An excellent lunch or light supper need be no more than a good soup, a salad, cheese and fruit. And combined according to your own taste, a good homemade soup in these days of the can opener is almost a unique and always satisfying experience. “ Julia Child, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” 1966.
This isn’t Julia’s vichyssoise. It’s not wildly different, but it’s different enough that you wouldn’t mistake the two. This is tarter, because of the buttermilk, a bit offbeat because of the scape contribution, still more divergent with the addition of the parsley-scape pesto.
But it began with Julia. The near half century since the publication of MACF has seen a lot of craziness in the American culinary scene. At times it’s seemed as if we jumped the rails of culinary common sense and plummeted down the hillside into a wild terrain of fad diets, extreme eating rules and wholesale exile of many of the things that give us pleasure. Yet, judging by the evidence of many food blogs we appear to be returning to a saner view of what we eat and how we prepare it. Julia’s observation that homemade soup is “almost a unique and always satisfying experience“ is as true today as it was when she wrote it. I love the fact that we’re in the middle of a Julia love fest, celebrating her 100 years. She’d be so happy to know that we’re dropping the nonsense, using butter and cream (even if a bit more moderately), and heading back into the kitchen to cook really good simple food. If there were any tribute I could give her it would be to change the title of her masterpiece to “Mastering the Art of French Cooking… and Eating.”