By Nancy Vallarella

Photo credit: Nancy Vallarella

Years ago, I stood in the St. James Market admiring garlic scapes. Intrigued by this garlic bulb byproduct, a woman asked me, “What do you do with those?” My response was, “You can make pesto.” She then replied, “What else?” I was stymied, and it was this moment that launched my journey of discovering how to use and prepare garlic scapes.

The green, circular bundles primarily displayed at local farmstands in the early summer are versatile shoots that grow from the hard neck of garlic bulbs. Farmers remove the shoot before the flower bud tip blooms to ensure the growth of a plump, flavorful, below-ground garlic bulb.

The stems of the garlic scape resemble unusually long string beans. Their deep green color is indicative of their herbaceous quality. Their aromatic yet mellow garlic flavor makes them a perfect addition to delicate dishes.

Garlic scapes also work well as vegetables with the proper preparation. Always check the bottom end of the stem, which can be woody and fibrous. If this is the case, cut it off along with the flower bud top. Blanching the green shoots will ensure tenderness. Always follow up with an ice water bath to maintain a green color and prevent carryover cooking. Cut the scapes into bite-size pieces to add to stir-fries.

Grilled garlic scapes are the perfect accompaniment to grilled meats and poultry. Toss whole stems in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and place directly on the grill. Cook until tender with grill marks. Finish with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. This process produces a sweet roasted garlic flavor.

Compound butter flavored with blanched and minced garlic scapes is excellent on grilled bread, fish, and meats. Bring butter to room temperature, mix in prepared garlic scapes, lemon, parsley, and salt (if using unsalted butter), and roll into a log using plastic wrap. Place in fridge until hard.

Garlic scapes are ideal for adding to savory salads like Korean cucumber salad or mixed into chicken salad. If you go raw, mince or thinly slice them. Blanch bite-size pieces.

One of my favorite ways to use raw garlic scapes is to thinly slice them, as thin as Paulie sliced garlic for sauce in Goodfellas. Whisk into scrambled eggs along with spiced feta cheese. No salt or pepper is required. Spiced feta cheese can be found at the Montauk Farmers’ Market on Thursdays and the Huntington Farmers’ Market on Sundays, along with other Greek goodies at the Kalypso Yogurt tent.

Hummus is the perfect dish to infuse with garlic scapes. In your favorite hummus recipe, replace the garlic cloves with scapes. Sautee sliced garlic scapes and pile them in the center of the hummus for enhanced garlic flavor.

Garlic scape pesto is ideal not only for pasta but also as an accompaniment to many dishes. I plan to use it as a topping for clam pizza with sourdough discard dough.

Garlic scape pesto is best prepared in a food processor. A mortar and pestle will not work well to break down the scapes. Almond Restaurant in Bridgehampton recently posted on Instagram showing a meat grinder to break down garlic scapes for pesto.

The best part of garlic scape pesto is that it can be frozen for future use. With portion control in mind, I freeze it in an ice cube tray and store the cubes in freezer bags once frozen. If needed to brighten up a soup or stew, just pop a cube or two in at the end of the cooking process. The cube-sized pesto also defrosts quicker than a whole container-sized block.

Saving the best for last, run like a thief in the night to 8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue this Thursday through Sunday, where Fyr & Salt Café will be serving Cucumber and Garlic Scape Soup. I don’t know how they prepare it, but everything served there is essential to your health and taste buds. It doesn’t get any fresher, and the picturesque surroundings are breathtaking.

Fyr & Salt’s Chef Jon Shearman and sous chef Dan Batista picked the last of this summer’s garlic scapes on the farm. Chef Max Mohrmann (Fyr & Salt) provided the inside information that Cucumber Garlic Scape soup was being prepared for this weekend. Take advantage of this opportunity for something extraordinary.

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