One of the things I really like about food and cooking is that even after all these years (and I’m one older today!), I continue to find new and surprising things. Take the Dr. Seussian plant up there. Until a couple of years ago, I’d never seen such a thing, and if you’d told me what it was, I’d probably be a bit surprised that you could eat them. Yet here we are, looking at what is now one of my favorite vegetables of early summer – the garlic scape.
I first heard about them from an article in the New York Times. It was all about the author hosting a garlic party in which no actual cloves of garlic are consumed. Instead, different or immature parts of that lovely allium are harvested and appreciated. Garlic scapes were one of those parts.
But what are they, exactly? I’m sure you know that garlic as you know it, those papery bulbs, grows underground. Bulbs are underground food stores for the plant when it goes dormant. If you left the garlic bulb underground, it would allow a new garlic plant to emerge, year after year. In a sense, this is a way for the plant to reproduce, but all of those little garlic babies are clones, as well as bound to the same spot. To spread out, the garlic also has a means to reproduce sexually, via flowers. Before it can produce these flowers, however, it has to get them out from under the ground. How does it do this? You guessed it, it sends up a bright green shoot that, initially, is so flexible that it bends and twists. That there is the garlic scape! If you look carefully you can see the beginnings of the flowers at the tops of them.
So okay, great. Scapes are basically garlic stems. So what? Why eat them? Why am I so excited about them? There are two simple answers:
1. They are delicious.
2. You’re helping the farmer grow better garlic!
You see, the scapes come out when the garlic is getting ready to put some serious energy into SOMETHING. Left to its own devices, that would be the flowers that will let its little garlic babies get out into the world! That’s good for the garlic…but not as good for a garlic lover. All of that energy going into shoots and flowers means its not being stored into fat, spicy garlic cloves. So farmers cut the scapes off before they get to hog all of the resources.
So, you’re doing a farmer a favor by buying these otherwise useless stems. And that’s a lovely reason to eat them, but let’s face it, we’re all more likely to do things that benefit ourselves. So I’ll refer you back to point one – scapes are delicious. At least, they are if you like garlic, because they still taste like it. However, while the bulbs can be strong to the point of being spicy, the scapes are lighter and more delicate, and have a lovely green vegetable taste all their own, as well. Think asparagus that’s been scented with garlic.
This means you can use them pretty much as you would most greens – steamed, sauteed, or stirfried. Scapes are a bit fibrous, however, so the one thing they’re not really suitable for is eating raw, unless you really, really love chewing.
One way to combat that side of the scape is pretty much my favorite way to eat them: make them into pesto! The resulting spread can be used much like regular basil pesto on pasta, although I think the stuff is so good I usually end up eating it on crackers.
1/3 cup nuts: I’ve done this with pine nuts and walnuts. You could also use almonds – it depends on what you enjoy! You can also toast them for a deeper flavor.
About 1/2 cup olive oil (I did half olive, half walnut oil on my last batch. YUM.)
Put the scapes, 1/3 cup of the cheese, nuts and half the oil in the bowl of a food processor. Whir to chop and blend all the ingredients and then add the remainder of the oil and, if you want, more cheese (and you will want more cheese!). If you like the texture, stop; if you’d like it a little thinner, add some more oil. Season with salt.