garlic scapes: out of the garden, onto the menu

harvested garlic scapesGARLIC 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.

A friend 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 scapes’ subtle 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.

more garlic goodness

  1. 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.

    1. margaret 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.

  2. Ann says:

    I was geeking out seeing our first scapes. We trimmed them and made pesto. 1/2 we froze for another dinner. This tells me things are progressing in my garlic bed.

  3. Monica blum says:

    Tossed my scapes in oil and grilled them last night. Absolutely delicious. Going out in the rain to harvest more. Bet they will be great in an omelette after sautéing them first. Monica

  4. Linda says:

    Last week on a cold rainy day I decided to make chicken soup. I threw in a few of the scapes I had just cut. What a delightfully nice flavor they gave the soup. Can’t wait to harvest the heads in July.

      1. Linda says:

        The “head” or the bulb, the part that grows in the ground. They will be ready in mid July. I continue to use the scapes I have left. Used them in veggie omelets for lunch yesterday.
        I plant more and more each year as the homegrown is so superior to supermarket garlic.

  5. Judy Hines says:

    I used to grow lots of hardneck garlic, ‘music’, and the scapes were such a great bonus. I miss having them.

  6. candy says:

    I left mine on a little too long the stem part is tough can I use the bulb part or try using the whole thing to make pesto

  7. Ann says:

    I almost forgot to snip mine! If I hadn’t received your post, they would have flowered! Thanks for the reminder!!!

  8. william morehouse says:

    The flower end of the scape is tough and i cut mine off and use just the stem.

    Also an old timer once told me that the bulb is a TOE of garlic not a head.

  9. Dyan Jones says:

    Margaret, when planting our garlic in the autumn, it is inevitable that I have opened more than enough bulbs for the planting. The extra cloves go into a basket for immediate kitchen use. As well, I dig up a furrow in the garden and load in the extra cloves. I have also taken to laying an old barrel hoop on the ground and planting the extra garlic cloves within that circular cultivated area. Voila, intentional green garlic for the spring!

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