This column originally ran in 2004, the first year that I made the acquaintance of garlic scapes. I was enchanted. Now, they are an annual treat, available at farmers markets and occasionally made into a pesto and sold ready to toss with pasta for a quick summer supper. Don’t miss their brief season.
It’s not every day of the week that you eat a new vegetable, especially at my age. A friend brought me a baggie of green shoots explaining that they were “scapes” that she trimmed from the garlic plants in her neighborhood garden. The curly, bright green shoot tapered sinuously to a pale bulge that ended in a long, thin point.
I had heard of scapes before, mostly from chefs and purveyors who go out of their way to find a new way to titillate the public with yet another chichi ingredient that shows their culinary superiority. But scapes are common; any garlic grower knows them. They are usually removed and put on the compost pile rather than made the star of the dinner table — but now is their time to shine.
The scape is the long flower stalk that comes directly from the root of the garlic plant and curls around itself a time or two before forming top sets or bulbils that can be planted when mature. Farmers remove the scapes to encourage more growth in the garlic bulb, but the fresh green shoots that emerge in late spring to early summer are high in edibility quotient and snazzy factor.
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Garlic comes in two varieties, hardneck and softneck. Softneck garlic is grown commercially because it is easier to harvest without the stiff stem, the hardneck. The hardneck garlics, such as elephant, Italian rocambole, German red, Spanish red, Spanish roja, marino, German white and Prussian white, can have a 20 percent greater bulb yield if the scape is removed so the energy goes to the bulb.
A member of the lily family, allium sativum is native to western Russia but now grows wherever the climate is temperate. It is a perennial that is planted from top sets that mature on the scapes or, more successfully, by dividing the bulbs into cloves and planting them in the fall, in our area. The plant seldom makes seeds.
Approach your first scapes with respect if you are unsure of them. Plan a simple meal, like roasted chicken rubbed with lime juice and olive oil and potatoes cooked in chicken broth and then mashed with dill. Don’t use any onion or garlic elsewhere and try roasting the scapes whole, so you can appreciate their fantastic shape and the vitality that they promise. The result is mildly garlicky, with a snap and creaminess that is unique.
Anne Quinn Corr is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania,” of several iBook cookbooks (“Food, Glorious Food!” “What’s Cooking?!” and “Igloo: Recipes to Cure the Winter Blues”) that are available for free on iTunes. She regularly posts to the blog HowToEatAndDrink.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oven Roasted Scapes
▪ One bunch scapes, rinsed
▪ One tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
▪ Kosher salt
▪ Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse the scapes and place in a casserole dish or baking pan. Drizzle the olive oil on top and toss lightly with your fingers to coat them. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and grind on some black pepper. Place in the hot oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the scapes are tender and slightly wilted. Serve hot or warm.