What is that curling out of my garlic plant?

By Robin Alberti

The first year that I tried growing my own garlic, I was surprised to find this thin (about the width of a pencil) light-green stem growing out of the top. It curled around as it grew and even made a flower bud at the end. It reminded me of something out of a Dr. Seuss book. I had no idea what it was, or what, if anything, I was supposed to do with it. I did some research, consulted other gardeners, and added a new word to my vocabulary: garlic scape.

Scapes grow out of the top of hard-neck varieties of garlic. They have a mild garlic flavor, and should be cut off the plant when they begin to curl around, before the pod at the end swells too large. This forces the plant to put its energy into forming a plumper bulb below the ground, rather than growing a large flower.

Since scapes need to be removed from the plant promptly, the season is quite quick. If you do not grow your own garlic, you may be able to find scapes at your local farmer’s market or co-op. Because of the short season for scapes, freezing them is a great way to be able to enjoy them year-round. However, scapes get tough and hard to cut if frozen whole, so the best way to preserve them it to finely chop them (either with a knife or food processor) and add a little olive oil to prevent oxidization before freezing. If you put the chopped scapes in either an ice cube try or mini muffin pan to freeze, then pop them out and seal them in a freezer bag, you can then pull out individual portions to use as needed. Add a cube of scapes to pasta sauce, soups or salad dressing to add some garlic flavor.  Another way to preserve garlic scapes is to mix them with soften butter. Form the scape-butter into a log, then wrap it in wax paper, then foil, and store in the fridge or freezer.  A slice of butter on top of a grilled steak or baked potato is delicious.

Here are a recipe to try:

Garlic Scape Pesto

A bunch (8-10) of garlic scapes, flower pod end removed

1 cup of packed fresh basil leaves

1/3 cup of olive oil

¼ cup of chopped nuts (pine nuts, walnuts or pistachios)

¼ cup grated Parmesan for Romano cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, finely chopped scapes and basil. Slowly drizzle in the oil. Add a little more if needed to form a nice, smooth sauce. Fold in chopped nuts and grated cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss with hot pasta. Add a little starchy water from cooking the pasta to thin if necessary.

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