Curious looking things aren’t they, the garlic scapes? In fact, whenever I look at them, I can’t help but think of ET. You do remember ET, don’t you? The friendly little alien flying around on a bicycle, trying to phone home? Of course you do. I loved that movie when I was a kid. And, who could forget such a beautiful-homely little creature? Well I think garlic scapes are a bit like ET. They are freakish, but you can’t help loving them. Look closely. Do you see a scrawny, curled little finger in there? OK, so maybe my way of looking at things is a bit odd, but I figure if you are reading this blog on a regular basis, you are getting used to it. You don’t really mind, do you?
Alright, back to the scapes. Last fall, I wrote a fairly lengthy article on how to grow garlic. And shortly after I published it, my friend John emailed, curious about why I didn’t mention garlic scapes. Well, there were two good reasons actually. Garlic scapes are a gourmet delight; found at Farmer’s Markets and specialty grocers, usually during the month of June. First of all, I wanted to wait until scapes were actually in season, so I could include a recipe for garlic scape pesto, (which I tried last summer and loved). And the second reason had to do with a matter of horticultural opinion. As hard neck garlic, (Allium sativum) matures, it produces a straight green stalk which then forms a loop or two at the top. This loopity loop -which reminds me of ET’s finger- is the budding garlic flower; more commonly called a ‘scape’. That knobby spot is where a bulbis will form if left on the plant. Some growers remove the bulbis and sell the scapes at market. In theory, the plant’s energy is redirected toward underground bulb production. Other growers prefer to leave the bulbis intact until autumn harvest, later drying and propagating garlic from the bulbis’ themselves. I decided an experiment was called for on this one…
I enjoy eating garlic scapes. So, I usually harvest them in June. But last year I left a group standing, as a little horti-science project. I know – geek. And interestingly, I noted no difference in bulb size between the plants with bulbis left standing, and the garlic with scapes cut in June. So, there you have it, my little scientific report on garlic scapes. Others may have differing results, and I am interested to hear about their experiments. But for now, I will feel completely guiltless eating all the scapes my heart desires. And now that we are finally on the subject of eating them, I must say that one of my favorite ways to enjoy garlic scapes is in a pesto sauce. I tried several recipes last summer, and my favorite is actually a hybrid between one I found on Adam Roberts’ Amateur Gourmet and another referenced on Adam’s blog from Dorie Greenspan. I actually like the pesto with almonds, as Dorie prepares it, but I rarely have them in my house. Pine nuts are always in my cupboard, and I use them frequently in all kinds of pesto.
Garlic scapes are cut off just below the first or second set of leaves, and once harvested, can be prepared many ways. In addition to serving them in pesto, as pictured here, I also enjoy them blanched, roasted or sauteed with a bit of olive oil. If you’ve never had them… do seek these curious curlicues out at the farmer’s market. The scape season passes quickly, and it’s important to harvest them just as they form their loop-di-loops, or they become tough and bitter. Of course, if you grow your own garlic, (see super easy instructions here), then you will have a ready supply every June to enjoy in season, or freeze for later…
Garlic Scape Pesto
(From the collective wisdom of Dorie Greenspan and Adam of Amateur Gourmet)
Ingredients (makes 2 cups +/- of pesto):
12 Garlic Scapes, chopped fine in food processor
1/2 cup grated parmesean
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts or almonds
1/2 cup olive oil
Sea salt to taste
Rotini or spaghetti or other pasta, cooked al dente and rinsed
Put washed scapes, cheese, pine nuts, salt and 1/4 cup of olive oil into a food processor with a metal blade. Blend the ingredients and slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Taste and adjust cheese and salt to suit your preferences. If you want a very smooth pesto, blend until creamy. If you are looking for a more rustic paste, then remove from the processor when just blended.
Use immediately as an appetizer, such as a spread on warm bread, a topping or layer on pizza or lasagna, or my favorite way: mixed with rotini pasta and chilled for lunch. If you aren’t using the pesto right away, place it in an airtight container, covering the top with a sheet of plastic wrap to protect the beautiful color from oxidization. Garlic scape pesto can be refrigerated for a few days, or you can freeze it for 2 – 3 months and use it later in the summer…
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