Hallelujah Springtime, it’s Garlic Scape season again! In my last Spotlight on Spring post for the year, I’d like to discuss the scape: maybe you’ve seen some weird-looking rubber-banded tangles of vibrant green shoots at a farmer’s market, or perhaps they showed up in your CSA/organics box recently and you’re a little concerned that the Day of the Triffids is about to re-enact in your kitchen. So what in the heck is a garlic scape, and what do you do with them if you have some?
What are Garlic Scapes?
These thin, curly-wurly stems reminiscent of irradiated green beans known as garlic scapes are the immature flower stems and flower buds that grow from the bulbs of hardneck garlic plants. Scapes first grow straight out of the garlic bulb, then coil. Harvesting the scapes is an integral part of garlic farming—if the scapes aren’t cut off, the plant expends its energy trying to grow its stem and flower when the garlic plant fully matures, leaving the bulb small and flavourless.
In flavour, scapes are less fiery than its parent garlic cloves, have a texture similar to asparagus, and a fresher, somewhat herbaceous taste that’s a blend of chive or green onion, but with a distinct garlicky flavour and aroma. Scapes come into season in the late spring and early summer, and are usually sold by the bunch.
How Many Varieties of Garlic Scapes are there?
According to the Gourmet Garlic Gardens website, North Americans seldom see more than one kind of garlic in the local supermarket, but there are several different kinds and are nearly all different in size, color, shape, taste, number of cloves per bulb, pungency and storability. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of cultivated sub-varieties of garlic in the world, though most may be selections of only a handful of basic types that were widely grown, and developed their own characteristics over the centuries as local growing conditions changed.
Where do Garlic Scapes Come From?
Botanists classify all true garlics as members of the lily family and under the species Allium Sativum. There are two subspecies; hardneck garlics (the OG of the garlic world) and softneck garlics (developed/cultivated over the centuries by growers from the original hard-necks through a process of selection). Hardneck garlic is the kind of garlic that typically grows in Canada and the northeastern U.S.
I won’t go into the different sub-species of hard-and soft-neck garlics that have evolved over the decades from the original, but needless to say, there are far more garlic varietals than what we usually find in the grocery store. While many of the special varietals may not be commercially available everywhere, you may be able to order seeds and grow them yourself; check out the Gourmet Garlic Gardens website to see about ordering seeds and plants (not a sponsor).
How do you Store Garlic Scapes?
Garlic scapes keep very well in your refrigerator crisper drawer, as they can last for a couple of weeks. You can also chop and freeze them, which will preserve them for several months.
How Do You Prep Garlic Scapes?
Scapes are very easy to prep. Usually, the ends of the scapes will have a little bitty bulb; snip off the tips and the bulb, run the scapes under some water to get rid of any dirt or schmutz, and chop them up to whatever length works for you.
How Do You Use Garlic Scapes?
Scapes are versatile (my favourite word!) and can be used in a variety of recipes; in fact, they can substitute for any time you might otherwise use garlic cloves or scallions.
Scapes can be sautéed, pureed, roasted or pickled, used as a main ingredient in condiments such as pesto, and are excellent in stir fries. They can also be diced and used in egg dishes such as frittatas and omelettes, and are great in both soups and salads. They can be consumed raw though they’re better cooked as they’re a bit tough and chewy otherwise.
Best Recipes Using Garlic Scapes
There are some great recipes out there that illuminate the uniqueness and versatility of garlic scapes, as opposed to simply substituting them for another vegetable. Some of the best are actually “cold” or uncooked recipes; from the classic garlic scape pesto to a delicious scape hummus to the garlicky and herbaceous scape compound butter, this vegetable can be used so many ways. You can also pickle scapes or blend them up into a garlicky green goddess dip, or quickly blanch them and add them to salads.
As for cooked scape recipes, the simplest is often the best; grilled whole scapes are delicious and very forward in flavour. Another way to utilize scapes is to slice them and add them to your sizzles, soups and stir-fries, or even better, sauté and put them on your pizza.
Below I’ve included four amazing links that have compiled some great recipes using garlic scapes; I cannot do better myself so please enjoy these excellent recipe options below.
- Serious Eats: 7 garlic scape recipes
- Bon Appetit: 10 garlic scape recipes
- Farm Fresh Feasts: 23 garlic scape recipes
- Grow a Good Life: 10 garlic scape recipes
With my genuine thanks to the following sources: