I told C the other day that we were going to have garlic scapes for dinner.
He asked, “where is the garlic trying to escape to?”
Probably not an uncommon response to a mention of garlic scapes. But while it certainly does look like the scapes are trying to escape, a garlic scape is simply the flowering part of the plant. If you’ve ever seen an onion or other allium in bloom, that’s kind of what this is like. The big difference from onions is that garlic scapes grow long and curly and people often pick them to eat.
I’ve heard it said that even if you don’t eat the scape, you should cut it off anyway because the plant wastes energy on the flower that it should be using to make a bigger garlic bulb. I’ve also heard that it doesn’t make any difference. I usually pick some and leave some, and have never had a problem with a lack of garlic, so I can’t answer anything definitively. As the scapes get longer, they tend to curl more, which makes them fun to look at, if nothing else. Don’t let them go too long though if you plan to eat them, as they get tougher the older they are.
Garlic scapes do have an unmistakeable garlic flavor, but it’s not as strong, so they can be used in a variety of applications. I’ve tossed them into a frittata and simply sauteed them with some greens, but probably the most common way of using them is to make garlic scape pesto.
The method of preparation is the same as a traditional basil pesto, you’re just swapping in the scapes instead. You can keep some basil in there, or use another herb like parsley (which may help mitigate some of the dragon breath, but not much). Blend up the scapes, some salt and pepper, and a little olive oil, and you’ve got a perfect sauce to toss with some fresh pasta. Note that the pesto will have some zing to it if you don’t cook it, so if you want to temper the heat a bit, toss with the pasta and stir it up for a few minutes over low heat.