Yes, you can eat those curlicue garlic scapes!
For the last few weeks, I have seen garlic scapes quite a few times on cooking shows, and as ornamental plants in front yards in our neighborhood. I did – oh so briefly – contemplate foraging for some from those yards, picturing myself in a Catwoman suit, tip-toeing around under the cover of night battling with the city’s raccoons for dibs!
However, I am not keen on being arrested, so one morning we bought a handful of garlic scapes at the Wychwood Farmer’s Market, our Toronto “stand-in” for our Cretan laiki agora (peoples’ market).
What are garlic scapes?
Scapes are the light-green stems and unopened flower buds of hard-bulb garlic. When they’re young and tender, they look like curly Chinese Long Beans with tightly closed buds near the top. When cooked, they taste like roasted garlic with a hint of spring onion.
Farmers harvest scapes in early Summer so they won’t suck the life from the garlic bulbs that they will harvest in the Fall. I love that we can use more of the garlic plant itself – nose-to-tail (flower-to-root?) eating extended to veggies.
Finding garlic scapes.
Mostly you will find scapes at the farmer’s market, which is great because that means they are local with a small carbon footprint and the money paid for them stays in the area.
When buying scapes, choose ones that are firm but somewhat flexible and free from brown spots.
If you have garlic in your garden and want to harvest your scapes (which will increase the size and quality of your bulbs), wait until the center stalk is taller than the rest of the plant. The scape will grow straight for about a foot before beginning to spiral. The number of curls it will have, if left untended, depends on the type of garlic, but most will curl at least once.
Before and during the first curl, the scapes have a crisp but tender texture; once they have straightened and continue to grow, they will get hard and woody. So, the best time to harvest the scape is once it starts to curl: cut the stalk as far down near the ground as you can without cutting off any of the leaves.
Storing garlic scapes.
Store the scapes in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to two weeks. You could also make a unique arrangement by putting them in a vase with fresh water for up to 3 days (change the water every day).
Using garlic scapes.
You can use raw scapes in many of the same ways you use garlic, from pesto to compound butter. Cooking them will mellow some of their sharp flavor, but be careful not to overcook or they lose their taste altogether.
Some ways to cook them:
• Steam them like asparagus, and then finish with olive oil or butter and salt and pepper.
• Sprinkle chopped pieces on pizza before cooking.
• Use them as an ingredient in a stir-fry: chop the scapes into one-inch pieces and add to your favorite recipe.
• In the Summer – grill ’em!
• Add to savory pancakes as you would sliced green onions
Note: When cooking scapes over direct heat (such as sauteing or grilling), cut off the tip from just after the bud as this part can scorch quickly.
Sauteed Garlic Scapes
My favorite way to enjoy scapes is the simplest and they make a great side dish. A dash of lemon juice sprinkled over them just before removing from the skillet is optional. You could also fold the cooked scapes into an omelet.
Sauteed Garlic Scapes
- 2 large handfuls of fresh garlic scapes tips removed and cut in half
- 2 teaspoons olive oil or butter
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Place the olive oil or butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat for 15 seconds.
Toss the scapes into the skillet and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Toss the scapes with tongs while they cook, making sure to not burn them.
Remove from the skillet once they are crisp-tender or al dente, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately.