The greens of spring: scapes

Garlics of the hardneck type have a wonderful array of flavors and are easy to grow. Separate cloves and plant them in early fall. Earlier in spring, green garlic could be harvested if you planted extra for that purpose, and it certainly is delicious. Please see my earlier post on alliums for more on green garlic. Now, though, the underground cloves are swelling and forming fibrous skin between divisions and aren’t good to eat as green garlic. But your garlic plants have sent up scapes, thoughtfully providing you with a pleasant garlicky green vegetable to tide you over until the “heads” are ready to harvest. You need to cut off the scapes, since they take energy from bulb formation, so this harvest is guilt-free pure bonus.

The scapes may have coiled into fantastical seaweedy coils. Make sure that you harvest them while the entire stem is still green, with no withering or yellowing. There may be a small touch of yellow around the blossom-sheath at the tip, but the stem should be all green. Cut them at the base of the highest leaf on the plant. Now wash well and cut each scape into one inch pieces, including the bulging part of the blossom sheath but discarding the long skinny tip above it. Now you are ready to cook them. See below for recipes and suggestions.


Onion scapes, shown above, are also a nice kitchen bonus. When green onions (see my last post) start to go to seed, this is what you get. Pick them while the blossom-sheath is still the size of the tip of your finger or smaller. Wash them and cut in segments as for garlic scapes, above. They need different handling at the stove.

For vegetable cooking at its simplest, heat a large heavy skillet over high heat, and when good and hot pour in some olive oil, perhaps a few tablespoons.Put in the cut segments of a dozen garlic scapes. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until cooked to your taste and a little bit of browning from caramelization is evident. This takes about 5-6 minutes if the skillet was hot enough to begin with. They should still be bright green except for ther caramelized spots. Toss in some sea salt to taste ands serve. This amount serves two generously.
Onion scapes are much juicier than garlic scapes. They are full of juice, so even though they can be cooked the same way, they will crackle and spit ferociously when they hit the hot oil. A splatter screen is handy. They shrink a lot more in cooking. The flavor is milder and sweeter, especially if you let them caramelize a little. Please do keep in mind that for onion scapes to be tasty, the bulb on the tip has to be fairly small, as shown. As the bulbous sheath swells the stem of the scape gets woodier until, by the time individual buds are clearly discernible against the sheath, the scape is hard and inedible. In the market, just squeeze the stem softly with your fingers. It should feel about like a green onion leaf. If it’s hard, look for younger scapes.
Garlic scapes can be cut up and cooked with penne; the cut segments assort very nicely with the penne, being nearly the same shape and size. This is especailly nice when the sauce is a pesto or herb sauce (see the Herbs section on my website recipe page for a few possibilities.) Cook the penne in boiling salted water in the usual way for three minutes. Then add the garlic scape sections to the pot and cook until the penne is done, usually 7-8 more minutes. Sauce with an herb sauce and the best Parmesan that you can find grated over all. Yum. THis technique is not successful with onion scapes; they don’t have the texture for it.
One of my favorite dishes for summer is roasted chicken thighs with preserved lemon. This can be baked on a bed of scapes for extra deliciousness.

8 chicken thighs, preferaby the splendid pastured chicken from Pollo Real. You can use 4 leg quarters and divide them into thighs and drumsticks.
4 cloves garlic.
2 preserved lemons
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup good extra virgin olive oil
15-20 scapes, depending on size. Use garlic, onion, or a mixture. Clean and cut into 1″ lengths per guidelines above.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Chop the garlic cloves. remove the pulp from the preserved lemons, rinse the rind, and chop it into pieces about the size of matchheads. Make a paste of the garlic, salt, and preserved lemon rind and rub it into the chicken. In a 9X13″ roasting pan, toss the scapes with the olive oil, and set the seasoning-rubbed chicken thighs on top in a single layer and ad half a cup of water to the pan. Roast at 400 degrees until the thighs are cooked and beautifully bronzed on top, usually about 40 minutes. Test the chicken for doneness. Serve with plain cooked bulgur, putting a thigh or two and a spoonful of scapes and juices on top of each serving of bulgur. Very easy and delicious, and healthy too. You can use rice, but it doesn’t taste quite right with the preserved lemons.

4 responses to this post.

  1. […] never eaten before. Well, we have had leeks and parsnips, but that was about it. In addition we got onion scapes, young garlic, gogi berry leaves, tarragon, mint, Chinese lettuce and watercress. At first I was at […]


  2. Posted by obie1Kanobe on October 2, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Great photos and great info!



  3. Posted by Alex on June 2, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Tonight used diced onion scape, diced garlic scape, rosemary and basil leaves as an alternative to condiments on grilled Italian sausage in a toasted roll. The greens beat the heck out of any condiment when they’re fresh from the garden and this particular combo is quite good on a sandwich and probably good in a salad too.


  4. […] in 2009 I wrote a post on onion and garlic scapes that you can find here, and all I can say is that if I had known that hundreds of people were going to look at it and it […]


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