The first time I ever saw garlic scapes was at a mid-day farmers’ market on Main Street in downtown Buffalo back in 2004ish. A farmer had a bushel basket full of these swan-like curly tendrils that looked like a cross between a flower and a fairytale. He graciously explained what they were and I bought eight or so, took them home, and stored them in a vase of water on my dining room table because I thought their swooping, smooth green lines were so otherworldly pretty.
Garlic scapes are the stem and flower bud of a garlic plant. Farmers and gardeners cut off the scape in mid- to late June to let the plant focus its energy on creating a big, healthy garlic bulb under ground. Different varieties of garlic will produce different size scapes, and while all of them are deliciously edible, larger ones can sometimes be fibrous and are better used in recipes that call for chopping them. Find them at farmers’ markets, some co-ops, and in the gardens of friends who remembered to plant garlic last fall. Their somewhat mild green garlic flavor is a seasonal treat that’s as versatile as a scallion – here are just a few ways I like to use them:
• Garlic scape pesto – This is great tossed into pasta or frozen in ice cube trays (just pop out the frozen cubes and put them into a freezer bag) to use later in tomato sauce, scrambled eggs, mixed with mayo for a sandwich, marinating olives, or any other time you want a green garlic kick.
• Chop finely and sautéed with home fried potatoes (this was the suggestion of the original farmer who sold me my first scapes.
• Use minced scapes as a substitute for garlic in things like hummus, salad dressings, and compound butter
• Garlic scape and potato soup – Green, velvety, and delicious
• Pickled scapes (you knew I was going there, didn’t you?) – A few years ago my very smart friend Holly applied my dilly bean recipe to jars full of garlic scapes instead of beans (omitting the clove of garlic, obviously). The result was incredible. We ate these spicy, dilly, garlicky tendrils straight because that’s how we roll, but they’d be good in a salad, on sandwiches, and on burgers, too. Here you go:
Dill-pickled garlic scapes
6-7 bunches of garlic scapes (enough to fill 7 pint jars when they’re cut up)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper per pint jar
1 teaspoon whole mustard seed per pint jar
1 teaspoon dill seed per pint jar (or 2 fresh sprigs)
5 cups vinegar (1 ¼ quarts)
5 cups water
½ cup salt
1. Wash scapes thoroughly; drain and cut into lengths to fill pint jars. If they’re little thin ones, you can also tie them into a ring and stack them. It’s a pain in the ass, but if you don’t tie them, they’ll spring out of the jar like those snakes out of a trick peanut can. Pack scapes into clean, hot jars; add pepper, mustard seed, and dill seed.
2. Combine vinegar, water, and salt; heat to boiling. Pour boiling liquid over the scapes, filling jars but leaving ¼ inch headspace. Seal and process in a boiling bath for 5 minutes.
YEILD: 7 pints