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. Cary says:

    Yeah, in California we call it green garlic. I’d forgotten about that; thanks for the great reminder. Margaret!!! Today my first green bean blossoms. Sooo excited! Also my All-Blue spuds are just about to bloom. Been reading and rereading your lovely posts on hilling. Just added what I think will be the last straw to the hills. Thank you sooo much for all your help with my new New England veg patch. You saved my life this year. Have a lovely day. Enjoy those scapes! All the best to you dear.

  2. Barb says:

    I haven’t cut off my scapes yet, this is the first time I’ve planted garlic. I have heard that they are edible but wasn’t sure how to prepare them. Thanks for the suggestions, paring them with asparagus sounds yummy.

  3. Janeen says:

    @ Patricia – I do think it makes a difference to remove the scapes… it allows the garlic to devote more energy into producing larger bulbs. Plus, the scapes are yummy to eat.

  4. Sebette says:

    I found a recipe to pickle garlic scapes. I have 2 bunches in the fridge that I am going to try out. Said that they will keep for 6 months in fridge with out processing.

  5. Naseer says:

    Emily and I were wondering when you or other gardeners were going to start writing about scapes. It’s that time of year, and the people need enlightening!
    In the last two weeks, we picked the scapes off the hundred or so garlic plants started from Garlic Fest bulbs last autumn, and made both stir-fry and pesto. I was surprised to see you say that they taste sweet. When I tasted the tips of our scapes before adding them to the recipes, they tasted distinctly garlicky (some even spicy hot), which is also how the pesto turned out. Delightful nonetheless, but I wonder if the sweetness varies based on which varieties you grow. This year we grew music, german white, spanish roja, georgian crystal, and bogatyr, all quite hot varieties in their bulb state.

  6. Marion says:

    I throw 5 or 6 into the blender with a bunch of cilantro, a splash of orange juice, a tablespoon or so of olive oil, and one medium hot chile, and turn it into a marinade in which I leave chicken parts ovenight, and voila!

  7. Ami says:

    Was wondering two things as it’s scape time: When you cook the garlic scapes do you remove the bit at the top which looks like an immature flower bulb? How about shallot scapes? I am growing for the first time and just cut mine. Should I have? Do they also cook up nicely? Thanks!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Elissa. How exciting! Love my garlic. Keep an eye on the withering of the foliage as mentioned in the other article to get the timing right, and then follow the info on how to cure it and such. I have a series of articles on the topic as I think you saw. If you have more than you can use/store, you can freeze it, by the way. More on all things garlic here.

  8. Greg says:

    My favorite garlic scape recipe is minced garlic scapes in a pan with a tablespoon of oil. Stir fry in whatever veggies are in the garden…this week that means bok choi, sugar snap peas, and asparagus in our neck of the woods. Throw in a few eggs from the coop. A shake of salt and whatever cheese is in the house. Toast a baguette and you’ve got breakfast and enough leftovers for lunch. I’m about to take a bite while I sip my morning coffee and watch the hens peck about.

  9. Terryk says:

    Ami wrote: “When you cook the garlic scapes do you remove the bit at the top which looks like an immature flower bulb?”

    I was wondering about that too. Any answers for us novices?

    1. Margaret says:

      Sorry Ami and Terry to overlook the question. Yes, I eat all the parts, stem and undeveloped flower.

      I also forgot to say hello to Barb. Thanks for saying hello!

  10. Zoe says:

    You’ve inspired me to go in and fix some garlic scape pesto for supper, which sounds like just the thing. I have been enjoying all things garlicky since early spring, from green garlic to garlic scapes. Now and then I do pull up a bulb early – the cloves are mostly formed and pearly white, but the skins are still thick and need to be cut away with a knife instead of peeled. The flavor when slowly sauteed is amazing – fresh and sharp and earthy.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Zoe. I am the last one to try the green/spring garlic, but here I go: out to harvest a bulb early! Thanks!

  11. Janis says:

    I have tried several methods of preparing garlic scapes, but mine always have a harsh, hot, almost bitter flavour – what am I doing wrong? I grow hardneck, several different varieties, and love a spicy warm garlic – but my scapes – ugh!

  12. Tricia says:

    I’ve yet to master garlic in my garden but love when these turn up in my CSA share — and so sculptural and gorgeous I also just love looking at them!

  13. Sharon says:

    Had some volunteer garlic pop up in some not-quite-so-composted kitchen scrap compost. The scapes are quite thick and woody. Delicious, but I will probably have to make a blended oil out of them because they’re about as woody as older asparagus!

  14. Peggy O'Brien says:

    I love the idea of asparagus, snap peas and scapes together — I have a harvest of all three right now. Great contributors here. I’ll visit again for sure.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Michele. Next year you will know! I never ate them until the last few years, and I think many gardeners leave them on the plant or cut and discard them. But see what you think with the next crop.

      Welcome, Peggy. Yes, the “spring medley” over here. :) Or just one or two in a combo. A friend said that I let the garden tell me what to eat, which at this time of year is largely true.

      See you both soon again.

  15. Marla says:

    I love scapes when I get them at the farmer’s market, but it always seems that a large portion of the scape is tough and woody. How do I know what needs to be cut off, or are these scapes on the old side?

  16. Sandy Hutchison says:

    I love garlic scapes, but I find the tops very tough and stringy. Tried them in a stir fry once and we all agreed they were horrible chewy things that ruined the texture of the dish. Once I learned to remove the tops (that little wing thing and above), it was a different story: yum, yum!

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