Today was one of those days where I puttered in the garden. “I don’t want to weed the garlic,” I thought. “Well, maybe I’ll just pull that one big weed.” And I pulled it. And it came out easily, and then I thought, “Well, maybe just one more.” Before I knew it, I’d weeded all 40-ish square feet of garlic, and then I just sat there and watched the garden, and watched my kid untangling the red and silver streamers meant to keep the birds out of the strawberries (they work, incidentally.) I glanced over and saw the top of one garlic plant all curled over and pointy. Huh. A scape. I’d read about them last year, but had ignored mine and allowed them to go to bulblets and fall off on their own. I reached over and pulled it off and bit into it experimentally. Yup. Garlic. Kinda tasty. I ate the rest of it slowly, and the thought occurred to me that with plants like these, or their wild cousins, it’d be easier to forage and cook yummy foods in survival mode.
Garlic scapes are the curly tops of hardneck garlic. They come out in the late spring (or here, with such a damp and dark spring, they’re just ready now.) They are edible, and they taste like a cross between garlic and an onion. I’ve never seen them in a farmer’s market, but I’m told sometimes people sell them at local farmer’s markets and fancy grocery stores. They only come out once a year, so once they’re cut, they’re gone. I’ve heard that if they sit on too long, they become stringy and hard, about they time they start to form little bulblets. You can let them do that, and the bulblets can be planted to make more garlic, but it takes a long time for garlic planted that way to become viable; planting from bulb cloves is easier and quicker. I’ve also heard that if you leave them on, it makes your garlic smaller, because the plants are putting their effort into their bulblets instead of growing large bulbs. And that if you leave them on, it makes the garlic you do harvest store better and longer. I left mine on last year, and my bulbs were small, and they stored very very well, so there may be something to that.
So what do you do with a garlic scape? I made pesto tonight. It’s a brilliant, bright green; if you’ve only ever had pesto from a restaurant or a store, you’re probably used to a kind of dark to forest green color. Freshly made pesto, especially with scapes, is almost electric colored. Really good. It has a fresh bite, but it’s not as overpowering as you’d think it would be.
Garlic Scape Pesto
- 1/2 pound garlic scapes
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 2 oz sharp sheep cheese, like peccorino or manchego
- olive oil
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the scapes, salt, pine nuts, and cheese. If you have the little insert cup with the hole in the bottom for drizzling olive oil into a mixture, fill that up and turn on the processor and let it run until the mixture is smooth. If you don’t, drizzle some in slowly through the chute as it blends. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides of the processor once in a while. If your scapes are a little tougher or older, you can sautee them first in a few spoonfuls of olive oil. You’ll only need a few minutes, until they soften. A blender will work in place of a food processor in a pinch, but it’s harder to get things smooth.
Toss with hot linguine or fettucine, and top with grated parmesan or reggiano cheese (or feta, if you’re adventurous.) Refrigerate leftovers in an air-tight container. Be aware that the pesto will darken in the fridge, and that’s normal. Freezes well. One way to freeze is to use an ice cube tray, fill the holes up with pesto, freeze solid, then turn out the cubes into a plastic bag. Thaw as many cube-sized portions as you need for a meal!