The Wonder That Is Garlic Scapes

Every year at the beginning of farmer’s market season, I get increasingly anxious waiting for garlic scapes to show up.  Scape season is really, really short, and they’re never really what you might call abundant.  Usually one or two vendors at any given market will have maybe a dozen or so tiny bundles.  If it’s a really good year, those vendors might have them available for two weeks.  Maybe.

This year, though, I have garlic in my garden.  I was actually on the ball and planted last October.  Now, half of one of my 4′ x 4′ raised beds is full of huge, beautiful garlic stalks.  I was starting to get really nervous that I’d been overconfident thinking I didn’t need to go on my desperate search for garlic scapes this year, because my garlic didn’t seem to be producing any.  I’d nearly given up hope, and then after a few days so busy I had no time to do anything but turn on the drip lines to water (because my timer has dead batteries, and I’ve been too busy to get more), I went out this morning and there they were!

Scapes!

Scapes!

Aren’t they cute?  I love how they curl around.  I’ve only seen pictures of what they look like if you let them grow long enough to bloom.  They’re too tasty for that.  Also, if you leave them on the plant, it will put all its energy into the flower rather than the bulb.  If your plan is to actually harvest and use your garlic, then letting it flower is just a bad idea.

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This is what they look like when you harvest the scapes.  The lighter, broader section is the flower bud.

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There’s a lot you can do with these.  They’ve got a mild garlic flavor, so they’re great raw in salads.  You can also use them in stir fries, or they taste like garlicky asparagus if you roast or grill them.  I’ve chopped them up and mixed them into biscuits and bread.  Today, however, I’ve had a special request.  We had friends over for dinner on Sunday night, and I made ribs.  I’d previously mentioned potato salad, but then decided potatoes plus yeast rolls was a bit of overkill on the starch, so I changed the menu.  I did not realize that my wife was all excited for the potato salad.  So now, because my wife is amazing and deserves to get whatever she wants, I needed to make some potato salad.

I don’t need to show you a picture of boiling potatoes, right?  I don’t recommend russets for this.  They’ll fall apart, and the peels are too thick and tough.  Who wants to peel potatoes? Not me.  Especially when so many potatoes have tasty peels.  Today, I’m using Yukon Golds, but red potatoes are pretty great, too.  You want to boil about four large or 6-8 medium potatoes.  Then, you need to cook some eggs.

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I know, hard boiled eggs are evil and impossible to peel.  I’m sure you’ve heard endless tips about using old eggs, or putting vinegar in the water, or only boiling eggs on the full moon after sacrificing a chicken.  None of those work, peeling boiled eggs is still a crap shoot at best.  They’re all bullshit.  The real way to make sure your eggs are easy to peel every time is very simple.  Do not boil.  Steam.  That picture up there is six raw eggs in my steamer insert.  This is the total number of eggs I cooked.

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And above you see six perfectly cooked, peeled eggs.  All I did was steam them for 20 minutes, then put them in a bowl with cold water until they were cool enough to handle.  After that, crack the shells and they slide right off.

Once you’ve got the potatoes and eggs cooked, chop them up, along with a stalk of celery, a clove of garlic, and your garlic scapes.  My harvest today was 16 scapes, but really, use as many as you want.  I used about half in the potato salad, and the other half went into a garlic scape and parmesan compound butter.  Well, half, minus the buds.  You don’t have to remove the buds, they’re every bit as tasty as the stalk, but I always reserve the buds for something pretty.  I think these will go on top of a quiche for Sunday brunch.

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See that curl?  Isn’t it cute?  The scapes I was able to find at the local farmers markets the last couple of years have been short and straight, and so disappointing.  If you’re growing your own garlic, don’t harvest the scapes too early.  Wait for them to curl around on themselves once, then snap them off just above the top leaf.

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Toss everything in a big bowl, then make your dressing.

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There’s a lot of room for improvisation in potato salad dressing, but this time I was going for something pretty simple so it wouldn’t compete too much with the more delicate flavor of the garlic scapes.  1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup sweet relish, and a scant 1/4 cup yellow mustard.  If you want to fancy it up a bit, spicy brown mustard is also amazingly good in this.  Whisk this all together, and then mix everything up until the salad is evenly coated.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Yes, it’s potato salad, but it’s really good potato salad.  Garlic scapes make everything special.  So serve it on the good china to someone you love.

Simple Potato Salad with Garlic Scapes

  • 4 large or 6-8 medium potatoes
  • eggs
  • 1 stalk celery
  • ¼ cup sweet relish
  • 1 clove garlic
  • scant ¼ cup mustard
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • salt and pepper to taste
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, about 15 minutes; drain and chop.
2. Steam eggs over boiling water for 15-20 minutes.  Place in cold water until cool enough to handle, then peel and chop.
Chop the celery, mince the garlic, and chop the garlic scapes.
3. Whisk together the mayonnaise, relish, and mustard, then mix all ingredients in a large bowl until evenly coated.  Season to taste.  Serve warm or chilled.
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