By Allison Radecki
Perhaps you’ve glimpsed them at the farmer’s market in late spring: a verdant tangle of shoots, wrangled into a twist and secured with a rubber band.
Just what are these vibrant coils of green? Medusa’s hair clippings? Exotic curly beans?
Friends, they are neither of the above.
Meet the mighty garlic scape, a seasonal delicacy offered up by our favorite allium as it develops the bulb of cloves that we peel, sniff, and savor. Though their harvest window is a brief one, when scapes do arrive at the market, they are a cook’s delight, providing a crisp, garlicky kick to any dish. Their flavors can also be captured and preserved in a range of easy-to-make preparations, like pesto and pickles, which will allow scapes to live on past their fleeting seasonal appearance.
As a garlic plant makes its way towards maturity, it sends up stems, called ‘scapes,’ which curve and coil in their fresh, tender state. These stalks end their twirly journey in a tightly closed bud that resembles the pointed end of a calligraphy brush. The scape’s sharp tip is linked to its English name, garlic, which is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘garleac’ meaning “spear shaped leek.” If a garlic scape if left to grow, its stem will toughen and straighten as it continues its path towards procreation. The bud will eventually flower into a circular burst of green, pink, or white blooms. As time passes, each individual bloom will swell and produce a brown ‘seed.' Truth be told, these ‘seeds’ are actually miniature bulbs, called bulbils. When harvested and tucked beneath the soil, bulbils will mature into a large head of garlic in about three to four years.
Here at Ruby Roots Farm, we remove the scapes from our garlic plants in the late spring when they are young, tender, and curly. By snipping and clipping we reap two rewards.
Since the enlarging stalks and flowering buds would draw nutrients away from the head of garlic ripening beneath the ground—which is our ultimate goal— this haircut encourages our maturing bulbs to reach their full potential and secures them the full energy of the growing plant. The scape harvest’s second gift is a range of culinary possibilities which allow cooks to experience their crisp, vegetal flavors as summertime makes its debut and even beyond.
There are many uses for scapes, which add their garlic essence to any dish:
- Chop them up finely and treat them as a substitution for chives or scallions in any recipe - Add a fine dice of scapes to an omelet with goat cheese - Pickle your scapes and use them in a variety of dishes or cocktails - Whirl them in a food processors to make an easy scape pesto
Below are two of Ruby Roots Farm’s favorite ways to preserve our scapes, so we can continue tasting their flavors well into the colder months. There's nothing quite like devouring a warm bowl of spaghetti and scape pesto on a frigid February evening; one twirl of your fork brings back the warmth of summer sunshine and the spicy flavors of the late spring.
Easy Garlic Scape Pesto
Adapted from the New York Times Yield: 1 cup of pesto Preparation Time: 3 Minutes (using a Food Processor is a must for this recipe) Ingredients
1 cup garlic scapes ( sliced crosswise into little circles) ¼ cup raw sunflower seeds (you can also use pine nuts, which are much pricier) ½ a cup extra virgin olive oil ¼ cup Parmesan Cheese ½ a cup of basil leaves Juice of one lemon
NOTE: Before you begin, take a quick crunch of one of your garlic scapes to test how potent it is. Some harvests tend to have a mild flavor, while other can pack quite the ka-pow!
If your scapes are quite strong you can mellow their sharpness by placing the chopped scapes in a colander and slowly pouring a few cups of boiling water over them. Drain well, pat dry with a paper towel, and use as directed below. Directions
When making a pesto, ingredient order matters. Please follow the exact order of additions below to guarantee the proper final consistency of your pesto.
Slice your scapes and place them in your food processor and pulse for 30 seconds.
Add your sunflower seeds (or pine nuts) and pulse for 30 more seconds to mix them well with the scapes. Scrape down the side of your bowl with a rubber spatula to capture any seed bits that may be trying to escape the pulverization process.
Slowly pour in the olive oil as you pulse the processor. If your cheese is in chunks, add the Parmesan cheese and pulse to combine.
If you are adding grated Parmesan cheese, wait until the scapes, seeds, and oil make a smooth paste before adding the grated cheese and pulsing it quickly with the processor to combine.
5A. If you are serving the pesto right away, add the basil and lemon juice and pulse until
5B. If you are preparing the pesto to save for a later date, stop here, and do not add
the basil and lemon juice. The pesto will keep in your refrigerator in an airtight jar or container for about 5 days— or freeze in a plastic freezer bag, or in an ice cube tray for months ( it is best to place the frozen pesto cubes in an airtight freezer bag once they are fully frozen.
6. Add the basil and lemon juice to your thawed pesto and pulse in the food processor
right before you are ready to serve your pesto, in order to keep the basil’s vibrant green color and full flavors.
Of course, you could always make the full recipe (basil and lemon juice included) and freeze the product. Just know that the pesto’s color will fade if the basil is added and then frozen or placed in the fridge! ** Scape pesto is delicious when added generously to hot, cooked and drained pasta or when spooned onto crusty bread. ** Scape pesto is also fantastic when spread on skinless chicken breasts. Top the chicken breast schmeared with pesto with a slice of tomato and then some breadcrumbs (with just the tiniest drizzle of olive oil to moisten the crumbs). Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or so until your breadcrumbs turn golden.
Pickled Garlic Scapes
Adapted from Make Ahead Mondays by Rebecca Lindamood Yield: 2 pints of pickled scapes Preparation Time: 10 minutes Wait Time: It will take six weeks in the refrigerator until the scapes are fully pickled and ready to eat. Believe us - they are so worth the wait!
2 bunches of garlic scapes, washed and trimmed of any withered or discolored bits 1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar 1 ½ cups water 2 Tablespoons of kosher salt 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
Additional Seasoning Spices to be added PER JAR
½ a teaspoon of whole, black peppercorns ½ a teaspoon of whole mustard seeds ( NOT ground mustard powder) ¼ a teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes ¼ a teaspoon of whole coriander seeds ( NOT ground coriander)
Coil each garlic scape and insert into a sterilized Mason or Ball jar.
When you have filled the jar to ¼-inch from the top of the jar, coil or break any extra scapes and stuff them down into the center of the jar.
When your jar is filled with scapes, add the seasoning spices into each jar. Set aside as you prepare and boil the brine.
Bring the apple cider vinegar, water, kosher salt, and sugar to a boil. Stir the mixture until it is clear and all the salt and sugar is fully dissolved.
Carefully pour the boiled brine over the jarred garlic scapes. Some scapes will, most likely, attempt an escape and pop up from the jar. Simply use a sterilized knife to push those scapes back in.
Wipe the rims of the jar and seal the lid tightly into place.
Let the jars come to room temperature before placing them your refrigerator for six weeks of pickling time before opening.
The pickled scapes will store well, kept in your fridge (always tightly covered), for about 6-7 months.
** Add a scape into a Bloody Mary for a crisp hint of garlic as you sip. ** Pickled scapes are also brilliant when added onto pizza or in a potato salad.
About the Author Allison Radecki
Allison was raised in a state of limbo, otherwise known as suburban New Jersey. Thanks to its particular terroir, her DNA is a tangle of late summer tomatoes, Polish caramelized onions, neighborhood pizza parlors and bagels. Time spent living and working in Hungary, Italy, Pakistan and India lead to her epiphany that exploring foodways was another way of learning the history of the world. A graduate of Slow Food’s Italian University of Gastronomic Sciences, Allison write about the kitchens, cooks, and food communities that help us realize where (and who) we are.