Garlic scapes, those swirling green shoots with daggered ends, are as winsome in a vase as they are in a pesto, sauce or stir-fry.
Belonging to the hardneck variety of garlic, these scapes lure energy away from the bulbs. The Porcelain variety of garlic, very popular today, is nicknamed serpent garlic, perhaps because in the garden, its scapes look like a bed of snakes. Cutting the shoots before they blossom forces the garlic plant to focus on producing bigger cloves and bigger garlic bulbs.
Their garlic flavor is mild and bright, without that pungent bite, and in a skillet they are less likely to burn. The scapes are great simply chopped and added to a sauté, stir-fry or spring vegetable ragout with peas, asparagus and early green beans. They may be substituted for garlic in a recipe as long as the gentler taste is taken into account.
This pesto, a simple purée, is fast and fresh. We like to use the biggest, fattest scapes, flower bud and all. Don’t hesitate to vary the fresh herbs, oil, cheese and nuts, depending on your own tastes and what you have on hand in the pantry or garden. Make the pesto in small batches and use it up right away so it retains its fresh flavor. It freezes nicely to enjoy through those dark, cold winter months.
Garlic scape pesto is delicious tossed with hot pasta, roasted potatoes, steamed rice, grilled chicken, fish and steak. Spread the pesto on crostini, or swirled into mayonnaise and yogurt for an easy dip. Tuck the pesto under the skin of chicken before roasting, whisk it into cold tomato soup, and shake it into simple vinaigrette. Adding a film of oil over the top of the pesto seals in the color and flavor of the pesto.
Beth Dooley is a Minneapolis writer and cooking instructor.