Growing garlic can seem like a dreadfully long process for those of us who crave the pungent clove for all manner of dishes: sauces, sautées, breads, and on and on. You plant the garlic cloves sometime in late summer to late fall, and then wait about nine months until the harvest is ready. Fortunately, in late spring, you have a mid-growth treat that can tide you over until the garlic bulbs are fully formed: garlic scapes.
Garlic scapes are the flower stalk of the plant. In June, a long rounded spear with an unopened blossom on the end will emerge from the garlic leaves. If left alone, the blossom will open into a wonderfully cylindrical bloom characteristic of all allium plants. This is where the seeds are produced. If you want to wait out the 24-month process required to grow garlic bulbs from seed, go for it, though this will take away from production of that particular plant’s clove. Most of us will stick to growing from cloves, so in early summer, just as the stalks are starting to curl, we can cut them off near the base of the leaves and use them for cooking.
Many people, when they learn about garlic scapes, are surprised to find that they are edible, but in fact, you can use them in any dish where you would typically use garlic. Bear in mind, they have a lighter flavor than the cloves, and if they’re harvested too late in the season, can be woody, but they can add that note of garlicky-ness you crave if you’ve eaten through your supply of last year’s cloves.
To use the scapes, chop them—flower bud included—into 1/2-inch pieces to add to your favorite dish: risotto, stir-fry, baked root vegetables, roasted chicken, and more. You can also mince for soups and baked goods, grind in a food processor for pesto, or leave whole and good on the grill. Let your imagination run wild.