Before I started gardening in earnest, I planted garlic. Nothing major just a head here and there. I would divide the individual cloves and plant them, root side down. And, every spring, I was rewarded for my bulb planting efforts with small garlic heads.
What I didn’t know back then was that I was supposed to cut the flower head, called scapes, off the stalk that grows from the head of garlic. Without cutting the scape, the energy that drives the bulb to grow is diluted. My early efforts at growing untrimmed garlic, resulted in those decidedly small garlic heads.
Not only do I know better now, In October before the ground freezes, you’ll find me planting hundreds of cloves of garlic. By the time late June comes around and the flower heads appear to plump on the stalk, I cut them off. Sensing the power struggle is over, the plant’s fused energy shifts to send vital growth to the grounded head.
Gathering up the scapes in my bag, I leave with good intentions. To be honest, I always have good intentions for those scapes. And yet, more often than I’d like to admit, they end up on the compost pile. Somehow I’ve never had the desire to whiz up scape pesto when I still have frozen garlic pesto my freezer from last year.
But this year, I promised myself, not to compost my scapes. To waste food, I ‘ve worked hard to grow seems counterproductive.
I thought about doing something simple with them like braising or roasting. I settled on roasting them in a high temperature oven, the same way I roast asparagus.
To start, I wrangled the unruly scapes into bundles, cut them into bite size pieces, and threw them into a plastic bag. I drizzled oil, sprinkled salt and pepper, sealed the bag and shook it until everything glistened with oil. I tossed the scapes on a pan, and put it on the top rack of a preheated oven at 425 degrees.
Slowly, the house filled with the heady aroma of garlic. I removed the pan after 25 minutes when they were slightly brown. The thinest bits, the very top of the flower head, were crisp as a delicate potato chip that with one touch of the tongue shattered into sharp shards.
The thicker stalk body, was soft and tender. Everything had a velvety garlic flavor that was decidedly more mellow than slow roasted garlic cloves slipped out of their skin waiting to be smeared on a torn piece of baguette.
These crisp and tender scapes were eaten without hesitation. I realized for the first time this curly green stalk that at best I had treated as a nuisance, and at worst, ignored, was in fact, a seasonal treasure.
If there had been leftovers, I would have used them in a breakfast omelet. But with no leftovers, and no more garlic to trim, I’ll have to wait until next year.
Waiting, after all, is part of the point of eating seasonal foods . To capture a flavor at its peak, is a moment of simple joy that comes from the work of our hands.
Got a special way with garlic scapes? I’d love to hear about it.