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Simple, Flexible, Delicious Garlic Scapes
What is a Garlic Scape?
Overlooking, underutilized, and oftentimes just plain unknown, the garlic scape is a versatile, delicious and nutrition addition to meals in a number of ways. You are not likely to find it in your local grocery store or food coop, but in early summer they can often be found in abundance at farmer's markets and in CSA shares. As garlic plants mature, they send up stalks in anticipation of flowering. In most cases these stalks are cut off, so the plant doesn't waste energy producing a flower but instead puts all it's energy into making larger garlic bulbs underground. These removed stalks, garlic scapes, have a variety of uses.
The uses for garlic scapes are endless. They have a much more mild garlic flavor than the bulbs themselves and thus lend themselves to a number of uses. They are delicious raw, thinly sliced and tossed into a fresh salad. The are also great in a stir fry or substituted for garlic (or used in conduction with garlic) in pasta dishes. In many cases you can slice them thinly and substitute them for scallions in dishes.
My sister uses her garlic scapes to make an unexpected pesto. She does a few different variations. Using only the scapes, along with nuts (pine nuts or walnuts in this case), olive oil, and parmesan cheese makes a rather strong pesto that can only be used in small doses. To tone it down a little, she will mix the garlic scapes with either basil or basil and spinach to give it a more traditional pesto flavor but with a little twist. Depending on how much you like garlic, you can add or omit the garlic cloves themselves from this mix.
My absolute favorite way to enjoy garlic scapes is grilled. The clean, simple flavor really shines through when cooked just right and it couldn't be easier to do. I take a handful of garlic scapes and drizzle them with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and then it's off to the grill. There are a couple little tricks to grilling garlic scapes. First, the grill can't be ridiculously hot. 350-400 degrees is perfect. Toss the scapes on the grill, cover, and check back often. As garlic takes on an unpleasant taste when burned, so too do garlic scapes, so don't burn them. After about five minutes uses tongs to flip the scapes over and cook for another five minutes or so. The other trick to all this, of course, is to keep the scapes from falling through the grates on the grill. This can be challenging at times. Work to keep them on top of the grill and have as few parts as possible hanging down closer to the heat source. This could also be done in the oven, but I highly recommend the grill.
Once the scapes are done, remove them and enjoy. The tips may well be burned, but the scape from the bulb all the way down the stalk should be sweet and tender. You can re-season if you wish, but it's likely not necessary. Simple is best. Let the sweet, clean flavor come out. They can be munched on by themselves with your fingers, enjoyed with fork and knife, or even cut up and tossed onto a burger. The sky is really the limit with these versatile, delicious vegetables. If you've never had garlic scapes, I highly encourage you to go out and find some when the season is right and begin to incorporate them into your dishes. They're only around for a relatively short period of time, but well worth using as often as you can.