Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which Nozlee Samadzadeh breaks down our favorite seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more by the numbers.
Garlic is a funny -- and extremely versatile -- plant: it's planted in the late fall, after most other plants are done for the season, and sleeps all winter long before sprouting come springtime. The bulbs aren't ready to harvest until summer -- and even then they need a weeks-long curing period to dry them out for long-term storage. Fortunately, there are other ways to get your garlic fix in spring and early summer. Young garlic is one -- the bulbs are soft, mild, and not yet hardened into cloves -- and garlic scapes are another.
What is a scape? Quite simply, it is the stem that a hard-neck garlic plant sends up to bear flowers when it reaches maturity. (Soft-neck garlic plants generally don't produce flower stalks.) Even if they weren't wonderful to cook with -- mild and tender, they provide garlicky flavor without sharpness -- it would be necessary to pick them out anyway. The energy that the plant would put into producing garlic flowers gets channeled into the bulbs instead, improving their quality and size. Here's everything you need to know about garlic scapes, from the farmers' market to the kitchen.
1. Flower Power - Unless you'll be braising your scapes, the area from the tip of the scape to the yellow bulb that would have grown a flower should be trimmed and discarded -- this part is generally tough and dry.
2. Going Loopy - When buying scapes at market, look for stems that have at least one or two "loops." A mature scape should be quite long, firm, and about 1/4 inch in diameter -- much older scapes will be dried out, and much younger ones will be too small and not as flavorful.
3. Stem Ends - To harvest a garlic scape, you simply cut the scape where the stem meets the shaft of the plant. Look for clean cuts on the bottom of the scape, a sure sign that they've been properly cut instead of pulled out, potentially damanging the garlic plant.
4. Chopping Block - You can use scape stems whole, whether you use them as barbecue skewers or braise them in a sauce. For cooking, however, the easiest way to break them down is by cutting across the stem to make tiny rounds -- like you'll find in Amanda's squash blossom frittata and Tom's chicken under a brick. If you're making scape pesto, a rough chop should do it.
Did we miss anything? What's your favorite way to cook with scapes? Have you ever harvested them yourself? (I have -- it's fun!)