Cooking with Garlic Scapes

Last week my sister Sarah sent me a photo of the garlic scapes she’d just harvested from her western Massachusetts garden.  A few days later, I harvested the garlic scapes in my Lopez Island garden and sent her a photo in return.  

It’s that time of year when maturing hardneck garlic sends out these curling seed buds.  Cutting them off not only directs growing energy to the garlic bulbs forming underground, but also provides a fresh vegetable treat to fill the gap between the end of asparagus and the start of green beans.  Garlic scapes have the diameter of these other green vegetables but, true to their origin, a garlicky flavor that is sharp and hot when raw and sweeter and more mellow when cooked.  

Friends make garlic scape pesto and serve it with crackers or on pasta, and Melissa Clark has a recipe for a white bean and garlic scape dip which she describes as having “a velvety texture that wrapped itself around an assertive, racy wallop so intense that I worried I’d scare even my garlic-loving parents out of the house.”  While this blast of garlic flavor is good, I prefer the milder flavor of cooked garlic scapes.  And there are many ways to cook them.

Like green beans, garlic scapes can be sliced and steamed or sautéed and served as a side dish.  When preparing them, cut off the stringy end just before the bud and enjoy the scape curling beyond the bud.  I often sauté sliced garlic scapes with other spring vegetables like radishes, cauliflower or broccoli or with white beans and serve the mix on pasta or polenta.  

The mild garlic flavor and slightly chewy texture blends wonderfully with the other vegetables. I also like to roast garlic scapes with cauliflower or broccoli.  In these days of early summer, though, my new favorite way to prepare garlic scapes is to grill them.  Brushed lightly with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper, they are easy to prepare. Like asparagus, garlic scapes gain soft sweetness and a nice bit of char when grilled.  We grilled them the other night with polenta and pork country ribs and are looking forward to grilling more scapes for other meals soon.  

My sister purees most of her harvest into a thick paste of scapes and olive oil, freezes it in ice cube trays and brings out a cube or two in winter to brighten and flavor soups or stews.  She says it’s a treat to cook with something green in the middle of winter. Thanks to her suggestion, I’ll preserve some of my garlic scapes this way and think of her when we’re each cooking winter meals, but I’ll cook the bulk of the harvest fresh and celebrate the start of summer.