Sunday, June 24, 2007

Vive le Québec!

Cyd and I have been working so hard lately, and though there is always lots of gardening and baking to be done, we decided to take the day off and amble across the border into Québec in honor of St. Jean de Baptiste Day. Now I won't pretend to understand the intricacies of Canadian history, but I do know this: around here, Québec's St. Jean de Baptiste Day (June 24, aka the Fête Nationale du Québec ) is a much bigger deal than Canada Day on July 1st (Canada's Independence Day). It reminds me a little of living in Utah, where Pioneer Day on July 24th was celebrated more than the Fourth of July, though they are celebrated in the same month (and in very similar ways). In Québec, besides everyone flying their blue and white fleur-de-lis flags everywhere (from little flags stuck all over their lawns to those flapping from their car antennae), Jean de Baptiste Day is also a night for the traditional lighting of fires, which usually means fireworks, such as those that sparkle over the river in Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu on the 23rd and 24th.

As for us, we decided to cross at a different border than we usually do (Lacolle instead of Hemmingford) and take rural routes north into Montreal to see some different scenery on a glorious summer day, and to check out how some of the small towns were celebrating Quebec's most important holiday. Along the way, we made a short detour to Saint-Valentin (where I am told that thousands of people send their letters and cards in February to get that very romantic postmark!) to one of our favorite berry farmers, and the sign said it all: Les Fraises Sont Arrivées! (The strawberries have arrived!) Of course, I quickly acquired a whole flat of the luscious, ruby red, gloriously sweet little gems which will be made into jam within a day or two.

Once we had had our fill of the rural hinterlands, we made our way into Montreal proper and up to the wonderful Jean-Talon Market which was in full swing! The fraises had also arrived there, of course, and people were flying out of the market, clutching their flats and half-flats of the deliciously aromatic strawberries that perfumed the air everywhere we went. After a zesty Romanian hamburger with fresh sauerkraut and homemade whole-grained mustard and then some gelato at Havre aux Glaces (Cyd got dark chocolate and I had Caramel Maple Brulee), we serpentined our way through the market, acquiring two kinds of strudel at the Polish bakery (poppy seed and almond), as well as a lot of delicious produce, including deep burgundy-colored Lolla Rossa lettuce, brussel sprouts, pencil-thin asparagus, shallots, and some fabulous apricots from the next province over in Ontario. We also spotted these garlic scapes. They are the sprouted tops of hard neck garlic that are cut off prior to harvest to redirect the plant's energy down to the bulb below. But the scapes are deliciously garlicky themselves, and have a delightfully pungent kick. Many people just sautee them and eat them as a simple side dish or snip them and use them like scallions or chives, but some of the vendors at my local farmers' market were telling me that they make a fabulous pesto. Some I came right home and produced my own delicious version of garlic scape pesto that I will be serving over the beautiful house-made pasta that we picked up at the Capitol Italian Market that is adjacent to Jean-Talon, and where the world's best cappucino can be had as a bonus while you shop. In any case, I highly recommend that you try making this pesto or using garlic scapes in any number of delicious ways, but hurry--scapes have a very fleeting season! They won't be in the farmers' markets more than a week or two. And while you're at the market, you absolutely must grab yourself a few pints of beautiful, juicy strawberries. They are truly remarkable this year!

Garlic Scape Pesto

3 cups garlic scapes, cut into pieces
1 cup olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1 1/2 cups shredded parmesan
3/4-1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon oregano
1/3-1/2 cup water

Add the pieces of garlic scapes, olive oil and lemon juice to the bowl of a food processor. Blend until the scapes are broken down. Add the toasted walnuts and process until fairly smooth. Add the parmesan and seasonings and process again to as smooth as you can get it. At this point, mine was still not smooth and was still too thick, so I added some water, a tablespoon at a time, until I got it to the right consistency (it took about six tablespoons total this time). I served it over pasta, and it was delectable!

*Tip: This recipe makes a huge batch, so you might want to halve it.

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