Dear MJ, I've been told that garlic bulbs grow bigger if you don't allow them to flower, so I always cut the flower stalks off. Can you tell me if it's better to wait until the stalk is mature and has straightened out or cut it when it's still new and curly? Thanks! -- Abi (via e-mail)
Dear Abi, It's easy to snap off the garlic tops with your fingers when the flower stalk is still young and curly. If you wait too long, the stalk gets hard and needs to be cut. But even more important, the curly garlic top is a valuable resource that you'll want to use.
One of the finest treats of summer is often thrown into the compost pile or heaped in the pathways of your garden. It's a food that hasn't yet been discovered by the general public -- a food-find that ranks right up there with asparagus and morel mushrooms.
Let me tell you about the garlic scape.
Scapes are the flower stalks found on members of the Allium family (onions, leeks, chives, and garlic). Garlic scapes, which only appear on the finest hardneck garlic varieties, curl upward as they grow, ultimately straighten, and then grow little seed-like bulbs.
When garlic scapes are still in full curl, they are tender and delicious. (A perishable product, they must be picked within two weeks of budding.) They provide subtle garlic flavor and crunchiness if added to salads and soups, they cook well in stir fries, and can be processed in vinegars, as pickles, or into a green "pesto" sauce.
The Inland Northwest is extremely well suited to the growing of premium hardneck garlics. The climate is appropriate for non-irrigated growing with fall planting, an early-summer scape harvest and a summer harvest of garlic bulbs.
Commercial garlic growers from warmer climates (for example, in Gilroy, California) use "softneck" garlic varieties that are readily machine-harvested and do not produce scapes. Garlics that are well adapted to colder climates (also known as "hardneck" or "topset" varieties), which also store better and peel more easily than softneck varieties, do produce scapes. Garlic growers cut scapes to enhance bulb growth. The scapes are usually discarded, but recently their value as a unique food has been discovered.
These young curling flower stalks are tender yet crunchy, with a subtle garlic flavor, but without the garlic "bite." Garlic scapes are a delicacy in some Asian cuisines and are available occasionally at gourmet restaurants, as well as local farmers' markets, where smart growers sell garlic scapes.
The demand for garlic is growing nationally and is destined to expand, given garlic's reputation as a gourmet food and its healthful medicinal properties. According to the Fresh Garlic Producers Association, the consumption of fresh garlic in the U.S. has reached 150 million pounds annually!
Depending on whether you planted your garlic last fall or this spring, you may still be able to harvest some scapes. Here are some recipes for you to try for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Garlic Scape Frittata
1/4 cup hot water
4 large eggs
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1-1/2 cups chopped garlic scapes
Salt & amp; pepper
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Place garlic and scallions in a 10" skillet with 1 tsp. oil, 1/4 cup water and a pinch of salt. Cook covered over medium-high heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well. Beat eggs with salt and pepper. Add remaining oil to skillet. When oil is hot, shake skillet to spread greens evenly, and add eggs. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until top is set (2-3 minutes). Serve hot or warm. Cut into wedges. Serves two.
Garlic Scape Pesto
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp. fresh lime or lemon juice
1/4 lb. scapes
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt to taste
Puree scapes and olive oil in a food processor until smooth. Stir in Parmesan and lime or lemon juice and season to taste. Serve on bread, crackers or pasta.
Mixed Vegetable Saut & eacute; with Asheray Vinaigrette
2 medium red potatoes (sliced with peel)
1/2 cup red or yellow peppers (sliced)
1/4 cup garlic scapes (chopped)
1/4 cup fresh beets (sliced)
1/4 lb. turnips (chopped)
1/4 cup asparagus tips
1/4 lb. French beans
1/2 cup baby carrots
1/4 cup snow peas
Salt & amp; pepper
In a large pan, add enough oil to coat the bottom with a thin layer of oil. Saut & eacute; the scapes, potatoes, beets and turnips till almost tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Then add the rest of the vegetables and continue to saut & eacute; for 5 minutes. Put vegetables in serving dish, drizzle with vinaigrette and serve.
Vinaigrette: 3 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar, and 1/8 tsp. summer white truffle puree, slightly warm.