Set the Table with Garlic Scapes
Written onJuly 03 , 2013
Garlic scapes are one of those totally edible and delicious things that most people don’t even know exist. Every spring, hardneck varieties of garlic (having overwintered but not ready to harvest until July) send up a curlycue stem with a bulbil up top. The bulbil is sort of a mini bulb that can grow new garlic in a couple years or just be eaten like garlic right now. The scape, though, is this delicious, green, garlicky stem of generous proportions. Scapes steal some valuable plant energy away from the profitable garlic bulb, so farmers generally cut it off soon after it starts to curl over. A few garlic growers and farmers’ market customers know the culinary tastiness of garlic scapes, but most scapes just end up in the compost or animal feed pile.
Last spring I made the “mistake” of telling three farmers that I would take their leftover garlic scapes. That small utterance will keep away the vampires for years to come. If you find yourself in garlic scape abundance (or simply want to stretch out this very short season), cut your scapes into 3- to 4-inch sections and freeze for as long as you need. The freezing mellows their garlic intensity a bit, and takes away some of their robust freshness, but most garlic scape preparations are just as good, if not better, with frozen scapes.
If you’re cutting your own garlic scapes, trim them young, just when they’re starting to curl. They will be more tender and easier to work with. The older, and larger, a scape gets, the hotter the flavor, but the woodier the texture. Those are fine to work with, but given the choice, do like MTV and go for youth.
When I’m early in a recipe development project (as I was this spring, for this article), I like to play around with weird ideas and see where they go. While they occasionally end up in odd, unspoken-of places, they usually end up in a land of rainbows and butterflies. Here are some results:
Garlic scape pesto is de rigueur in the local foods movement. Just blend up some cheese (I like feta), nuts (pine or otherwise), scapes, olive oil, and salt until it tastes just like you like it. But my favorite use for large quantities of scapes is scape sauce. This is just like hot sauce, but with all of the flavor and none of the heat. The vinegar means that this keeps for ages, so you can mason jar this goodness and use it all winter. I love to put it on my eggs, in my potato salad, in salad dressing, or just anywhere I would put hot sauce. I also use scape sauce as a quick cheater way to add garlic to a dish (because, really, no one LOVES peeling all that garlic every night).
a boatload of scapes
a goodly amount of white or apple cider vinegar
a delicious dose of salt
black pepper, if you’re so inclined
Fit the scapes into a food processor whichever way you can (aim to fill the food processor about 3/4 of the way full for each blending batch). Add enough vinegar so that the scapes purée into a mash. Add the mash to a large pot with as much vingear as you want to make a liquid sauce, and add enough salt and pepper to make the sauce tasty. Cook the sauce over medium heat for 30 minutes to 11/2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the scapes are fully cooked (longer for older scapes). Before removing the sauce from the stove, blend the mixture with an immersion blender to emulsify and add salt to taste. If you bottle this mixture hot, it can be stored at room temperature until opened.
I was having a fond hankering for homemade English muffins and thought I would give Garlic Scape English Muffins a try. I really didn’t think that anything good would come of the project because I thought that the woody scapes I was using would interfere with the crucial gluten structure of the dough and I would end up with oddly dense and garlicky bread. FYI, I was crazy wrong. Oh, these were so delicious. When toasted they fill the kitchen with a lovely mellow garlic scent. They make great sandwich buns all week long. And if you don’t have a biscuit or cookie cutter, the ring of a widemouth mason jar lid does a great job.
Garlic Scape English Muffins
2 cups of milk
2 Tbs. maple syrup
1/4 cup butter
1 Tbs. or 1 package active dry yeast
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2/3 cup puréed garlic scapes
1 tsp. salt
Heat the milk, maple syrup, and butter to 110 degrees (it will feel hot, but comfortable to your finger). Mix the yeast, flour, scapes, and salt in a large bowl. Add the liquid to the flour mixture and knead for 10 minutes or so. The dough should be sticky, yet smooth. Let the dough rise in a warm location (roughly 80 degrees) for 11/2 hours, or until doubled in size. Sprinkle two baking sheets or cutting boards with cornmeal and set aside. Turn the dough onto a floured countertop and pat it down to about 1/2 inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter to cut out the English muffins and lay them on the cornmeal to rise for another 30 minutes, or until they don’t spring back readily to the touch. Lightly grease a large frying pan and cook the English muffins on the stovetop over low -medium heat until they are golden brown on each side.Makes about 20 muffins.
I was not a huge fan of butter growing up. I think this was due to the ‘90s attitude against fat, as well as not having access to the really good stuff. Nowadays I am still picky about my butter (Vermont Creamery, Kate’s, or homemade, thank you very much), but I’ve never been picky about mustard butter. Mustard butter can be made fancy using all the latest food trends (uni, anyone?), or it can be bare bones basic. Some random, back-of-the-freezer butter with French’s yellow mustard could do the trick in a pinch. My dad introduced me to mustard butter and my variations are just about as random as his. Garlic scapes are all kinds of perfect in mustard butter. Mix a little sweetness from sautéed onions into a grainy mustard and add a little bit of ground black pepper and you just sent yourself to melty mustard heaven. Use the butter as a bread spread, in potato dishes, on fish, or in any savory butter place.
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs. unsalted butter at room temperature
2 Tbs. puréed garlic scapes
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tsp. salt, to taste
3 Tbs. mustard of choice
black pepper, to taste
Sautée the scapes, onion, salt, and 1 Tbs. butter over medium heat, until soft. Mix with butter, mustard, salt, and pepper to taste. Refrigerate or eat immediately.
Growing up eating healthy and gourmet in California meant that meatballs rarely (read: never) landed on my dinner plate. It wasn’t until a roommate of mine was seeking a gluten-free meatball recipe that I realized I had never even contemplated making a meatball. I don’t think I had ever even eaten a homemade meatball. So, when a new beau in my life wanted some Superbowl food, I decided to give them a try. (Those meatballs were delicious and that beau is now my fiancé.) Since then I have made many variations, of which this is one of my favorites.
Garlic Scape Meatballs
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup puréed garlic scapes
1 Tbs. olive oil or butter
1 tsp. salt
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/3 cup cream cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 375 °F and grease a baking sheet. Sautée the onion, scapes, olive oil, and 1 tsp. salt over medium heat, until soft. Let cool and add to a bowl with the beef, bread crumbs, eggs, pepper, cream cheese, and additional salt. Mix thoroughly and form into roughly 24 balls of 1 to 11/2 inches each. Space them evenly on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through.
I love discovering something inexpensive, copious, and delicious, and scapes are just that. You can infuse your life with garlicky goodness at a fraction of the cost. Use these potent veggies just like garlic, or just like green beans, or just like whatever feels right to you. Interestingly, I didn’t encounter a single failed recipe on my Scape Recipe Quest. And that never happens. I might even tell the garlic growing farmers that I have room in my freezer….
Claire Fitts is a recipe developer for corporations and publications, as well as the owner of Butterfly Bakery of Vermont. Check out her recipe blog at Goodgrub.ButterflyBakeryVT.com.