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 saute, 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 a 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. Garlic scapes make great pickles, too.
I often simply cut mine into inch-long pieces (perhaps with some peas, pea pods, or even cut-up asparagus) and lightly steam or perhaps saute 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.
Or 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 (how to tell when).
close encounter with ‘spring garlic’
ANEW ONE ON ME: A few Junes ago 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 with a series of what they called “green garlic” recipes, in fact, and they’ve revisited it since.
And my friend, the cookbook author Alana Chernila, plants her garlic extra-close in anticipation of thinning out every other one when it’s about 8 or 9 inches tall in spring, harvesting this “extra” crop, like she explained as part of this interview.