My Friend the Garlic Scape

While in Miami over the weekend, I received an e-mail from home base with the subject line: Scapes Are Here!

Even at a distance of 900-plus miles from home, I was delighted by the news that one of my long-anticipated produce items had made its annual debut at the farmer's market. The "scape" in question is hardly a typo or a secret code word; it's shorthand for garlic scape, a part of the garlic plant that is a garlic lover's nirvana.

Garlic scapes
Garlic scapes in all their glory.

Here's the anatomy lesson: Garlic and its relatives in the allium family, (leeks, chives, onions) grows underground, where the bulb begins its journey, soft and onion-like. As the bulb gets harder (and more like the garlic we know), a shoot pokes its way through the ground. Chlorophyll- green like a scallion (maybe even greener), the shoot is long and thin and pliable enough to curl into gorgeous tendrils.

This stage of growth is the garlic scape, folks. If left unattended, the scape will harden and transform from green to the familiar opaque white/beige color of garlic peel. Keeping the shoot attached will also curtail further growth of the bulb. So, in an effort to allow the garlic to keep growing, the farmer is getting a two-fer with this edible delectable that cooks are just beginning to discover.

At home, the scape is great fun; try dicing it into scrambled eggs, adding to a veggie saute or using as garnish for rice. However, the mac-Daddy way to understand the beauty of the scape is to pulverize a bunch into pesto. Instead of pine nuts, I use heart-healthy walnuts and far less cheese than I do with a basil-based pesto. The garlic flavor is fresh and light rather than redolent and pervasive, which means you can spread the pesto on toast and still kiss your kitchen mate.

I love it with short pasta and few cherry or grape tomatoes thrown in for color and acidity. The scapes last through June, a small window to understand what the fuss is all about. If you're like me, you'll stockpile a bunch and whip up pesto to enjoy into the rest of the summer.

Garlic Scape Pesto

1 cup garlic scapes (about 8 or 9 scapes), top flowery part removed, cut into ¼-inch slices
1/3 cup walnuts
¾ cup olive oil
¼-1/2 cup grated parmigiano
½ teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste

Place scapes and walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and whiz until well combined and somewhat smooth. Slowly drizzle in oil and process until integrated. With a rubber spatula, scoop pesto out of bowl and into a mixing bowl. Add parmigiano to taste; add salt and pepper. Makes about 6 ounces of pesto. Keeps for up to one week in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

For ½ pound short pasta such as penne, add about 2 tablespoons of pesto to cooked pasta and stir until pasta is well coated.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 6, 2006; 9:56 AM ET Seasonal Produce
Previous: Suppers in South Beach | Next: Is That Carrot You're Eating a Neighbor or World Traveler?


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Where does one find garlic scapes? Don't think they're a staple in my grocer's freezer, which is pretty pedestrian.

Posted by: Snyder | June 6, 2006 10:24 AM

Thanks for the timely entry! We just picked up scapes from our CSA farmer. I added them to sauteed cabbage for a little extra something.

Posted by: TofuMidget | June 6, 2006 10:38 AM

Are the scapes common in the farmers markets? The only farmers market I can get to is in Burke on Saturday mornings. They usually have the pretty standard fare, which is always good, but I've been wanting to try these scapes...

Posted by: Garlic lover in Fairfax | June 6, 2006 10:44 AM

Snyder, you gotta hit the your local farm market. Let me know where you live and I'll give you a few ideas on where to go to get the goods. This area is teeming with markets, so it shouldn't be too difficult for you to find one near you.

TofuMidget: Keep those scapey ideas comin'...

Garlic lover: Keep checking your markets and ask the vendors if you don't see them. This is the one time of year they'll make an appearance. Let me know if you don't see them this week and we'll ask others in your 'hood for scape sightings...

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | June 6, 2006 10:57 AM

I spotted garlic scapes at Whole Foods in Gaithersburg. They were labeled "garlic stalks," or "shoots" (can't remember which). They did look a little bit different from the ones I got from my CSA last year, so perhaps they are from a different variety of garlic.

I find scapes a bit strong to eat raw, but they're crispy and delicious when roasted with a bit of olive oil.

Posted by: Julie | June 6, 2006 11:10 AM

We planted garlic last fall, and now have our own scapes. Question: there is a bulge where the flower bud is forming. Do you use that also, or cut it off? Thanks!

Posted by: Pat | June 6, 2006 11:15 AM

Pat, I tend to snip off the flower bud because it can be hard and often petal-like. Don't think it will hurt you, but it may not be as pleasant as rest of the curly-Q. So envious of your garlic crop! Have fun with it.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | June 6, 2006 11:41 AM

If I make the scape pesto, can I freeze it after I've made it? How long will it last in the freezer?

Posted by: sachi | June 6, 2006 11:57 AM

I have a number of different type ginger plants growing. Can I use the greenery from these in cooking just as I use the roots?

Posted by: shirley | June 6, 2006 12:45 PM

Sachi: If you freeze without the cheese, then thaw in fridge, then add cheese, I think you'll be fine. Keep in airtight container, where it'll last for at least a few months.

Shirley: I don't know answer to ginger shoots. Anyone know? I'll see what I can dig up.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | June 6, 2006 2:16 PM

Don't love the idea of a pesto... but did buy scapes this past weekend at the Dupont farm market! Any other ideas for using scapes? Pretty please, Kim?

Posted by: Non-pesto-phile | June 6, 2006 3:08 PM

At the Union Square greenmarket yesterday I picked up my first-ever batch of scapes. I also happened upon some baby red-chard. One of my favorite chard recipes calls for the full formed version sauteed with garlic et al, so I decided to modify to see how it turned out.

I cut the scapes into 1 inch pieces and sauteed with a glug of olive oil, salt, pepper and some red pepper flakes until just slightly tendered, and then added the coarsly chopped chard and sauteed until desired consistancy. So simple, but I ended up eating so much of it that I wrapped my also purchased fresh fish portion up for leftovers with hardly a bite.

Posted by: LIRC | June 6, 2006 4:13 PM

LIRC, that sounds delish. I'm going to do just that because I happen to have some chard at home!

Posted by: Non-pesto-phile | June 7, 2006 12:53 PM

You might also try to find the scapes at any Asian, specifically Chinese, grocery store. These garlic shoots, which I think are called gau choi in Cantonese, are a fixture of Cantonese cooking.

Posted by: Lisa OD | June 7, 2006 6:02 PM

Kim, I wanted to follow-up on my search for the elusive garlic scape.

One of the farmers at the Saturday farmer's market in Burke had what he called 'garlic blossoms' which were the top of the garlic. They were fairly long (maybe 1 - 2 ft?) and had a blossom on top that had bloomed. They were definitely not pliable at all, but bought some anyway.

When I tried to cut them, it was harder than trying to cut through a rose stem and I had to almost hack through them. I thought maybe peeling the outer part and letting them simmer might soften it up, but they were like trying to eat branches off the trees. I had to throw them all out.

I should have realized when I noticed that it looked similar to green onions when they flower, since those get hard and unedible once the flower blooms. So they were probably just over-matured scapes.

Anyway, I'm very disappointed at the waste (they were a bit on the expensive side) and still want to try them after your rave reviews.

I work in DC and know there are some farmers markets during the week. Do you know of if any of the markers have garlic scapes that I could try and run to during lunch or after work to pick some up?

Posted by: Garlic lover in Fairfax | June 12, 2006 12:42 PM

Hi Kim,
Made a yummy garlic scrape pesto tonight for dinner and just had to tell you that adding some cherry tomatos really took the dish from good to great! Thanks for your always sound advice.

Posted by: Cheryl | June 12, 2006 8:27 PM

Garlic, on Thursdays, Penn Quarter market (3-7pm), then there are the USDA markets around lunchtime. Look at archives -- I did a post on the many weekday markets, with details on USDA markets. Hang in there, we'll get you some scapes!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | June 12, 2006 10:58 PM

Hi, we just bought some scapes, or garlic curls as the vendor called them at our local farmer's market here in Purcellville from Potomac Farms. I'm planning to make the pesto with some basil,add some cut and sauted in olive oil to eggs on Saturday. They should last about a week in the frige containners and freeze for future use near to the end of the week, I know fresh is best but they are so nice and mild I may not have any to freeze anyway.

Posted by: Deb | June 15, 2006 7:11 PM

I would love to make your pesto recipe, but need to adapt it to be both legume and tree nut-free. What may I substitute for the walnuts?
Mom to G

Posted by: Anonymous | June 16, 2006 5:23 PM

I would love to make your pesto recipe, but need to adapt it to be both legume and tree nut-free. What may I substitute for the walnuts?
Mom to G

Posted by: Mom of G | June 16, 2006 5:23 PM

Ah Geez! I recently tossed the "scapes" from 300 garlic plants onto the compost pile. The hired hand ate a few of them raw, but he's like that. How much are they selling for? Next year I'll send them to the local farmers market.

Posted by: Always the last to know | June 18, 2006 6:54 PM

Mom to G: I wonder if pumpkin seeds aka pepitas would be a nice substitute.
Always the last: I am crying for you. 300 scapes in the pile! Ah man. I'm seeing them for about $1 or so per pound, sometimes a little bit more -- which is about 6 scapes. Next year, yes, you'll become a scape millionaire.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | June 19, 2006 11:10 AM

For those looking for garlic scapes, one of the vendors at the Falls Church farmers market (Saturday mornings, sorry can't remember his name) is selling them.

Posted by: Scape Fan | June 21, 2006 6:38 PM

I just had scapes for the first time a couple of weeks ago and can't believe what I've been missing. Now I want to plant my own garlic this fall just to have my own supply next June. Any thoughts on what varieties of hardneck garlic produce the best tasting/largest yield of scapes?

Posted by: sam | July 14, 2006 8:34 AM

Grand Mart the large Korean supermarket chain in the area had gallon-sized bags of scapes labeled "Garlic Tops" for $1.50 a bag at the end of July

Posted by: Scapey | August 1, 2006 7:54 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company