As support for local food has grown, some crops that were previously discarded as farm by-products have been adopted by eaters as newly discovered culinary delights. Green garlic and garlic scapes are two such kitchen treasures. It wasn't long ago that an eater would have been hard pressed to find these treats. But now when these lovelies are in season, in the spring and summer, respectively, the farmers' market is brimming with them. Whether this new culinary frontier is being explored because some market gourmands like a challenge, eaters are more supportive of farmers and are more willing to buy all that is on offer, or these things just taste good is no matter. Because all three are true. Farm "by-products" like green garlic and scapes are fun to play with in the kitchen, drive more cash to farmers and will reward you for your foraging and cooking effort.
What's the Difference Between Green Garlic and Garlic Scapes?
Green garlic and garlic scapes are really just garlic plants in two different stages of development. Green garlic is called "green" because it is the immature plant, harvested before the bulb forms. Farmers dig them up to thin the crop so that the most promising bulbs get the space and nutrients they need. They can come from any variety of garlic.
Garlic scapes are the green plant tops and seedpods that are harvested from hard neck garlic plants later in the growing season. These firm curlicues are cut from the tops of the plant before the pods open so the plant's energy goes into better bulb production rather than seed formation. Since hard neck garlic is more often the dominion of local growers, you find most of your garlic scapes in the farmers' market, not the grocery store, where soft garlic, the kind favored by commercial growers for its adaptability to mechanical production, dominates.
Why are we talking about farm by-products in a food waste post? Because eating these parts of the plant that, like cauliflower and broccoli leaves, used to be cast off is a great way to get more out of the food we are growing. If we can get more food out of the crops that are already planted, we are optimizing the natural resources it takes to grow them. Crops such as green garlic and garlic scapes also give farmers additional revenue streams from the same crop so they get some income throughout the season, not just when the bulbs are ready for market. Enjoying the extended harvest, from greens to scapes to bulbs also reduces farmers' financial risk if some sort of blight wipes out the entire planting. And reducing food waste in this way also benefits you, the eater, because these little tidbits are truly delicious. Both crops give eaters ways to enjoy the full cycle of the plant's life through a variety of preparations.
How to Use Up Green Garlic and Garlic Scapes
Green garlic has a more delicate flavor than its fully ripened bulb. Unlike mature garlic that is "cured" by drying it a bit before it goes to market, green garlic is sold straight out of the ground with all of its succulent moisture intact. The combination of light flavor with bright, juicy, albeit small, bulbs has won green garlic some die-hard fans. It looks like and is often used like scallions, either raw or cooked. Like ramps, those rough and funky wild onion-y greens that have become so popular on the East Coast, green garlic heralds the start of spring and the beginning of seasonal harvests. Its bright, slightly nasal-clearing pungency wakes up a palate that may have been lulled by a long winter of mellow braises.
Green garlic keeps, wrapped in damp paper towels and a reusable plastic bag, for about a week. Cut away any dried or withered greens and remove the basal plate, the frizzy roots at the bottom of the plant. Use the white parts of green garlic plants as you would a fully developed bulb. Be sure to compensate for its milder flavor by using a bit more or adding it later or even at the end of the cooking process before it has a chance to mellow out completely. Use the green parts of the green garlic plant as you would scallions or chives; just be sure to mince them finely as they can be a bit more toothsome. You can also use green garlic in pasta, soup, tarts, sauces and of course, pesto. Or try them in the springy spread, below.
Garlic scapes are sturdier than green garlic with a more pronounced vegetal taste. You can eat them raw or cooked - and the flavor flips depending on the cooking method you choose. When raw, the garlic flavor is quite pronounced and the "green" flavor plays a supporting role. But when cooked, the garlic flavor mellows dramatically and the scapes taste like a delicate green vegetable, similar some say to asparagus, that has been sautéed in a little garlic.
Garlic scapes keep in the crisper drawer for a week or two. To prep garlic scapes, I trim away the scape from the seedpod to the tip -this section can be bitter and fibrous. Then you're ready to proceed with your recipe, which can include anything from a simple sauté to a luscious carbonara. They're also great grilled and pickled. And of course, again, there's pesto.
Green Garlic Springtime Spread
Makes about 1 cup
This spread shows off the bright, fresh flavor of the green garlic while balancing its still pungent bite with sweet peas. The combination of flavors screams, "Spring!" Use it to top grilled bread and serve as a cocktail nibble or dinner garnish - the slathered toasts are great next to a bowl of soup or stew. Or top them with a few slivers of cured ham or some white beans and a drizzle of olive oil and call it lunch. This recipe can be scaled up.
1-2 green garlic shoots, trimmed and minced
3-4 mint leaves, minced
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 teaspoon lemon juice or red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
1 cup of fresh peas, blanched (you could substitute favas as well)
Sliced, grilled bread
Place all of the ingredients, except the peas, in a blender or in the cup of an immersion blender and whir until combined. Add the blanched peas and pulse 2-3 times, so that some of the peas are pureed but most are just chopped so that you have a nice, chunky texture. Add a few more drops of lemon juice or vinegar, if necessary, and adjust seasoning to taste. Spread on bread and serve. Spread keeps, covered and refrigerated, for 1-2 days. Bring to room temperature before using.