Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wow, Garlic Scapes!

I'm growing garlic for the first time this year--Chilean Silver, a softneck variety, and Chesnok Red, a hardneck. When I went to order the bulbs last fall, I didn't know the difference between the softneck and hardneck varieties. I knew one did better in colder climates, supposedly, but I couldn't tell whether my climate on the desert plains of Colorado was considered a colder climate or not. So, that's why I ordered some of each type.

Both are actually thriving in my garden and from what I've learned since last fall, it seems that many gardeners around the country do well with both types. The softneck variety is what you will find almost exclusively in the grocery stores because it keeps much longer than the hardneck variety. It also has a softer neck (imagine that) so you can create a garlic braid with this type. The hardneck variety doesn't keep as well, but unlike the softnecks it sends up a cool flower stalk, called a scape, several weeks before the bulbs mature. Though there's some controversy, most gardeners believe it's best to remove the scapes, as that generally results in larger bulbs. (Others say that by doing so you reduce the storage life of the bulbs.)

The plus side of removing the scapes is that they are edible and delicious. I ate my first scapes two nights ago, quickly stir-fried in a little butter with a dash of pepper-based seasoning salt and some toasted sesame seeds. I was blown away! The flavor was garlicky, but mild--without the bite and aftertaste of garlic cloves. The bulbils were soft and sweet, melting in the mouth. They reminded me of garlic that has been slow-roasted in the oven but these cooked in two or three minutes. I cut the stems into two or three inch long pieces and they had the consistency of something between asparagus stalks and green beans, but with a flavor all their own. As I ate my stir-fry I detected a wonderful smokey flavor but I finally figured out it was coming from the sesame seeds. The sesame seeds really paired well with the scapes and it seemed that the whole dish was crying out to be served alongside a juicy steak or another fattier type of meat--lamb or salmon maybe.

Last night John invited me over for--guess what?--grilled steaks, so needless to say I contributed a scape side dish. It was perfect. I still have a few scapes left and I think I'm going to make a small batch of pesto with those. There are a lot of recipes online for scape pesto. I haven't figured out which one I'll try, but they all sound delicious.

Next year I want to plant a lot more of the hardneck variety just so I can enjoy more scapes!

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