garlic scapes: out of the garden, onto the menu

garlic scapes
GARLIC SCAPES ARE ON THE MENU THIS MONTH, courtesy of a garden that’s also featuring peas, tender salads and a delicious, if dwindling, final week or so of asparagus. But what to do with this latest offering? A sautee, perhaps, and also some pesto for future reference sound just right to me.

Scapes are the leafless flower stalks produced by hard-neck garlic—but I cut them off before they bloom, which in theory is meant to direct the plant’s energy into making bigger, better bulbs versus blossoms.

It’s also meant to make for some delicious lunches and suppers. But here’s the surprise: Garlic scapes aren’t garlicky, but rather sweet with just the slightest hint of what the plant they came from will soon become flavor-wise. They’re very easy to incorporate into recipes.

My friend Susan oils the whole scapes lightly, then cooks them briefly on the grill.

I simply cut mine into inch-long pieces (perhaps with some peas, pea pods, or even cut-up asparagus) and lightly saute them in olive oil, then toss with pasta or brown rice, grated cheese, and some more good oil. A dash of red-pepper flakes while cooking would be a nice addition, too.

Or I make pesto (as I do with most of my green herbs) for the freezer, a treat for the offseason. The basic preparation, made in the food processor, goes like this: Simply create your own to-taste and to-texture blend of scapes, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and walnuts or pine nuts, plus perhaps some salt and pepper.

The one thing I think is missing from that traditional blend: garlic. I almost want to add some mature cloves, to punch up the subtle scapes taste, but no. The understated tops deserve to be relished just as they are—and besides, the garlic crop’s not ready for harvest yet.

Close Encounter With ‘Spring Garlic’

ANEW ONE ON ME: The other day at the farm market, I saw a basket of what was marked “spring garlic.” They were whole young garlic plants—semi-developed bulb ends that haven’t set cloves yet, and stems and leaves and all—dug, washed and bundled for sale. They looked like giant scallions—taller, and with extra-thickened white ends.

Why dig up your garlic before it’s had a chance to fully develop, I wondered out loud? Apparently it’s all about the taste—somewhere between leeks and garlic, and absolutely understatedly delightful in the way so much of spring produce is. When I got home I found that “The New York Times” had celebrated it recently with a series of what they called “green garlic” recipes, in fact.

More Garlic Goodness

June 19, 2011


  1. says

    Well, here’s one reason for digging precious garlic early: I gardened myself into a corner this year by planting some of my garlic so close to a trellis that I didn’t couldn’t get to the peas, lettuce, etc. I pulled a row of what you called ‘early garlic’ in your article. Not knowing what else to do with it, I sliced it up like green onions, froze it on three cookie sheets, bagged it into ziplocs, and tossed it back into the freezer. Whenver you want to cook with it, just grab a handful or two. My freezer and even the refrigerator still stink of the stuff, but what a great stink it is. I’d recommend putting it into mason jars or something of the kind instead.

    • says

      I agree, Natalie: a good stink! I freeze all kinds of onion and garlic relatives, like this. I do about half my crop when it’s first harvested, then any after new Year’s that is in the cellar that isn’t totally firm still gets frozen, too.

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