These are curious creatures, these garlic scapes. As you can see from the photo above, they look a bit extraterrestrial. But they are related to the garlic we all know and love, just ever so much more subtle and tender. After garlic has been growing a little bit underground, a shoot will poke through the dirt, and grow into this beauty of a tendril. If left alone, the tendril will simply turn into the same texture as the white paper outer layer of the garlic we’re all familiar with; if left attached, the scape also will inhibit the garlic bulb’s growth. So, farmers cut off the scape and have an additional delicious product to sell, the garlic does better, and we all win.
Garlic scapes taste (and look) more like overgrown chives, in opinion, than like a clove of garlic. Which is no surprise, since garlic and chives are in the same family (allium), along with leeks and onions. Fresh scapes have a very delicate flavor, much less hot than regular garlic but still with a touch of bite. Their texture is also much more reminiscent of chives, just slightly thicker ones. (Scapes are different, by the way, than green garlic, which is basically the early spring crop of garlic, and comes with bulbs still attached.)
For me, the scapes were actually an impulse buy. I was walking down the aisle of the co-op (you will hear more about the Park Slope Food Co-op in a later post, I assure you), and there they were, looking practically alive in their bin, their green arms poking out in an attempt to escape. I filled a bag with them and got them home before I realized that I had absolutely no clue what to do with them.
A little online research later, I concluded that most people used scapes in one of two ways: either by making a pesto with them (for the moment impossible, due to my unfortunate lack of a food processor) or cutting them into pieces and sauteéing them. So the latter it would be, and just for kicks, I decided to mix them in with some rainbow chard I had also gotten that day, thinking they would liven up the greens and stems in much the same way regular garlic does, but with a lighter flavor. I had tried a bit of one raw, and found it still pleasantly garlic-y, and assumed that it would impart that taste to the chard when cooked.
I cooked the chard similarly to how I have made chard before, except this time I sauteéd the stems in a pan (and without onion) and cooked the leaves separately in a pot. After sauteéing the stems for a couple minutes in some olive oil, I added the pieces of scape I had chopped, adding up to a good six or seven scapes. After another couple of minutes everything was tender and ready to go.
But while the dish was perfectly good (and an especially nice side to the pork chop I cooked and smothered with store-bought tandoori curry), it had lost all of its garlic flavor. Instead, the scapes tasted almost like Chinese green beans, which is how I had read them referred to in a New York Times article. Satisfactory, but not what I was going for. I love garlic. I love variations of garlic. I wanted to still be able to taste the garlic!
So, when I decided to use the scapes again a few days later, I kept them in their perfect, raw form. I’d had a long day of pre-Bastille-day celebration and didn’t feel like making much. Things started with the idea of toasting a bit of baguette and adding some goat cheese. Then I remembered I had some nice grape tomatoes. Then I realized that combo would perfectly showcase the raw scapes, and so a sandwich was born. A drizzle of olive oil and some freshly ground pepper over the top made the whole thing complete. Note: I was going to make it a closed-face sandwich (as you’ll see by the presence of the top half of the baguette in this photo), but I realized that, for one thing, that much bread overwhelmed the contents of the sandwich, and, two, that I couldn’t fit the whole thing in my mouth. So an open-faced sandwich it was, and it was amazing, and amazingly scapey. Leaving me with the conclusion that raw garlic scapes are the way to go; cook them at your own green-bean-tasting risk.