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.  

Shapes of the Summer Solstice Kitchen Garden

In these long days around the summer solstice, pole beans and winter squash, pea vines and garlic stalks are lengthening themselves to match the days, stretching and twining, sending out tendrils, twirling and looping into fantastic shapes.  Responding to sun and warmth and longer days, these vegetables have begun their serious growth.  We’ve made it past the uncertain weather of spring and summer is really here.  It’s a lovely time to wander in the garden.

pole beans climbing 1

Winter squash vines 1

On the sisal strings of the pole bean trellis, leaves are spreading open along the twining vines and will soon cover the entire structure.  White, pink and scarlet blossoms will join the green of the leaves before giving way to dangling pods.  Squash vines are reaching beyond the borders of their beds and will soon carpet both paths and beds with giant leaves, then blossoms in shades of white and yellow and finally swelling orbs of squash.

Peas are producing now, the first crunchy sugar snap pods ready to enjoy raw or sautéed. Their blossoms and climbing tendrils continue to grow upward, lovely to look at and also delicious to eat.  We’ll have more peas than we can keep up with so harvesting a few vines and blossoms and sautéing them along with the pods adds beauty and variety to dinner.  In another month we can do the same with squash blossoms and late vines.

Sugar snap pea vine:flowerAnd finally the garlic stalks rising above the soon-to-be harvested bulbs have been creating the most whimsical show of shapes in the early summer garden.  Called garlic scapes, these seed heads of hardneck garlic are not only a delight to observe, each one different from its neighbor, they are also a delicious garlicky treat.

Garlic scape groupSome cooks make a pesto from the raw scapes but we find the resulting sauce too garlic-hot.  Lightly steamed, though, the scapes are really delicious, like a sweetly garlic-flavored green bean.  We eat them alone as a side dish or mixed in with other spring vegetables, peas, carrots or turnips.  Last night, garlic scapes, peas and pea shoots mixed with pasta for a summer dinner.

Garlic scape, pea still life

Garlic scape and pea pasta

Looking ahead to July and August, the garlic will be harvested in the next few weeks, then the peas will wind down as the beans come in and the winter squash will take on colors of rich green and deep orange, but for now, in these days just after the solstice, we’ll enjoy the special beauty of the early summer kitchen garden.