Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Once Discarded Scape

The garlic scape's existence managed to escape my attention until last year when my friend gave me a small bagful of them. They called to mind stiff, curly, scallions without the white part. I had to ask what they were and what to do with them.

My friend explained they were the trimmings from the garlic that she had planted in her garden for the first time, that cutting off the curl allowed the garlic bulb to grow bigger, and that the scapes were both edible and delicious.

I realized how fortunate I was to have received the scapes as a gift when I began to see them for sale at the farmers’ market and in the local gourmet stores. What was once discarded had been discovered as a flavorful, seasonal ingredient and was commanding a very good price.

I was not alone in my ignorance. I checked all my cookbooks (of which I have quite a few) and found no reference to this ingredient anywhere. I asked around, did a few searches, and decided to mince and then sauté my scapes in olive oil. They were delicious in a cheese omelet.

So, what is the story behind the scapes? My friend began to grow garlic in her garden, partly in reaction to her discovery that much of the garlic for sale in the US now comes from China (a future post). The garlic commonly chosen by Connecticut gardeners is the hardnecked variety that grows in colder climates. It is this type of garlic that has the curled flower stalks that are cut off in the Spring to encourage better bulb growth. Somewhere along the line (c. 2007?), their wonderful flavor was discovered, and garlic scapes have been in demand ever since.
It is scape season in Connecticut. I have spotted them in a range of prices (from pricey to very pricey), but my friend just came through once again. This time I decided to be more adventurous and to look for recipes online. The first reference to garlic scapes I could find in The New York Times was an answer to a 2005 query about the proper time to trim them. On June 18, 2008, the garlic scape finally hit the big time when it was featured in the NYT’s Dining & Wine with a lengthy article accompanied by several recipes.

I chose the White Bean and Garlic Scapes Dip as my experiment for this year. In preparation, I soaked and cooked a bag of cannellini beans (excess already frozen for future use). The remaining ingredients are probably on-hand in most of your kitchens: lemon juice, salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil. Once the beans were cooked, the remaining prep time and clean-up was no more than the 15 minutes provided as the estimate. This dip is creamy and flavorful – as good or better than anything you might purchase prepared. With a little extra olive oil drizzled on top, it was the perfect accompaniment to the Rainin’ Grains Ciabatta, baked by New Haven’s Chabaso Bakery, that I had picked up yesterday at the first (and I hope annual) Orange Street Festival.

This season is almost over. But I’ll be ready next time, with the goal of turning the entire bag of beans into dip as long as I can score enough scapes.

Perhaps I should have kept this discovery a secret.

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