Most people fantasize about crisp asparagus, stalks of tender rhubarb or sweet, juicy strawberries as spring draws near. I might be the only exception. As soon as the weather starts to warm and greenmarkets gradually switch their produce offerings from cellared root vegetables and apples to bright greens that signal Spring is here to stay, I have only one thing on my mind: Garlic Scapes.
We met only a few years ago but after an intense courtship, a lasting love flourished. It was during a typical CSA pickup that we first met. I was baffled by the slender wildly curly rope-like creature. I considered it might be a new crop that flourished in the rich soil of the Black Dirt Region. Or a new hybrid, recently discovered. I tucked it away with the rest of my CSA bounty, resolving to put it to good use.
Little did I know, this smooth green stalk that would soon win over my heart was not a new plant, the stem from which a garlic bulb grows. Tough but tender, you’ll need a good knife to slice these stems apart. Scapes never reach the intensity that a whole garlic clove would possess, so instead you’re left with a mild garlicky scented plant, crispy with both a sweet and spicy garlic flavor. They can be substituted for garlic cloves in nearly any dish, leading to a more delicate infusion of flavor.
Being a garlic fiend (and now even bigger scape fiend) I savor these treasures as often as possible during the short early Spring season—sautéed with brown butter over steak, blended into hummus or pesto, grilled as a crunchy burger topping or sometimes just raw off the stalk (my husband knew I was a garlic fiend before we married, but the scape discovery came shortly after our wedding. Luckily.).
Garlic scapes are only available in early spring, April or May, alongside or even slightly before asparagus starts taking over the greenmarkets. They are harvested immediately as soon as they mature in order to allow the plant to focus its energy on producing the garlic bulb. Scapes should be stored unwashed and loosely packed in a container or paper towels in your vegetable crisper. They will generally keep about up to 2 weeks, but I’ve had some resilient ones that lasted over a month.