Last weekend I was surprised to see a new favorite at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market - green coiled stems with a small yellowish bump toward the narrow end. As an enthusiastic garlic grower myself, I recognized garlic scapes immediately and knew it was time to start thinking strategically.
Around here, garlic is planted in early fall, to winter over and be harvested in June or July. About a month before harvest, the plant's flat narrow leaves are suddenly joined by stiff round spikes more reminiscent of garlic's cousin the onion. These are scapes, the flower-bearing stems that, if left, will burst into a stinky bloom of clustered mini bulbs. However, farmers generally snip them off to ensure the main garlic bulb under the soil continues to develop.
It wasn't until recently that I did a little research and realized that the garlic scapes I'd been trimming off my own plants and discarding are actually a delicious, adaptable ingredient in early summer dishes. They can be treated like chives or scallions, and play well with butter, hummus and salad dressings. Or they can be eaten on their own, sautéed lightly or even grilled and served as a side dish. So when they showed up at the market, I knew it was time to keep an eye on my own garden and do some menu planning.
At Passion8 Bistro in Fort Mill, executive sous chef Matthew Krenz said that he doesn't really plan for a scape season because it can be unpredictable. "I've been out on the [family] farm cutting scapes in early May," he said. "But that was all wild garlic."
According to Jenifer Mullis of Laughing Owl Farms in Richfield, North Carolina, the scapes snapped off her farmed hardneck varieties will be at market the first weekend in June this year. "Other growers may have them for a week or two more," she said. Also, as chef Krenz pointed out, harvested scapes keep well in refrigeration, so the two or three pounds he will order for the restaurant could show up on the menu for a month or more.
Krenz describes scapes, like garlic, as having "not an intense flavor, very mellow." Although they are "crazy delicious" just blanched and sautéed, at Passion8 he will be using them to make a pesto with olive oil, pecorino and citrus zest. Other easy ways he recommends to take advantage of scapes' flavor include adding them to pastas and pasta salads, or even served cold on their own. "Just blanch them until they're tender but still have a little bite to them." Krenz also likes to pickle garlic scapes. "The liquid and vegetable itself both benefit," he said. Not only do you end up with tangy pickled scapes, but the juice adds a very subtle garlic flavor when re-used to pickle other vegetables.
Sadly, all this information is only making it harder for me to decide what to do with my own garlic scapes. Since they are so versatile, perhaps we should consider them more of an early summer condiment than a vegetable. Scape salt, anyone?