Curly garlic stems not just for compost

Clare Howard

Garlic, planted in autumn before a long, cold winter, shoots to life with wild exuberance each spring, leaping, coiling and twisting to life.

The long, writhing garlic stems are snipped off by farmers to boost growth of the bulb. Many farmers simply compost the curly stems called garlic scapes. Other farmers take them to market, but their challenge is not just selling scapes but explaining them. Massed together, scapes look like a pit of unruly snakes.

Larry Shawback is up to the challenge.

Shawback owns White Chimney Farm in the Washburn, Ill., area. In past years, he'd cut the scapes off his German Extra Hardy garlic and compost them. Several years ago, he learned about cooking scapes. He likes them layered over pork chops and grilled. He adds them to marinara. He slices the tender flower heads and tosses them into stir-fries.

Last year and again this year, Shawback corralled scapes into a basket on his stand at a local farmers market and offered them free to his regular customers.

Some passed on the offer, avowing disdain for garlic and anything related to it.

Others, like Mary Mecocci, were delighted.

"I think it will make a lovely vegetable saute," Mecocci said. "I'll learn something new."

A licensed massage therapist and certified lifestyle educator in Peoria, Ill., Mecocci said she doesn't want to waste nutritional food. Scapes would have a nutritional profile similar to the garlic bulb with the added boost of chlorophyll, she said.

"Americans don't get enough dark greens. We need to eat more chlorophyll," she said.

Mecocci cleaned and chopped her scapes. She sauteed several bunches of greens -- including mustard and turnip -- in grapeseed oil, adding the scapes as the greens cooked. She seasoned with salt and hot red pepper flakes to taste. After removing from the heat, she drizzled the mixture with olive oil and served over brown rice pasta.

A nutritional analysis posted by Melissa's specialty produce lists scapes as high in calcium and vitamin C, very low in sodium, fat and sugar, zero cholesterol and a good protein source.

Scapes are especially valued in Asian cuisine. They have a mild garlicky flavor with a fresh green taste. Uses include stir fries, soups, salads, stews, salsas, dips, guacamole, omelets, frittatas, souffles, marinara, pesto and salad dressings. Scapes also freeze well.

Garlic scapes, also referred to as garlic spears, stems or tops, can be cooked like asparagus or cut into two-inch lengths, blanched like green beans and tossed with a lemony vinaigrette.

Scapes are mild enough to be eaten at breakfast. One suggestion is spreading a toasted baguette with butter and topping with thinly sliced scapes sprinkled with sea salt and fresh thyme leaves.

Andy Bowman received scapes this year in his CSA (community supported agriculture) share.

"I used them like a green onion," said Bowman, who lives in Dunlap, Ill. "I sauteed them with sweet corn, and it was good. You can use it like garlic, but it's milder. Use them in salads."

Kassy Killey also received scapes in her CSA and used them in a cilantro pesto.

"It was a little fiery," she said.

Zach Edmonds picked up the CSA share for his mother, Christine Zak-Edmonds. He said his mother used scapes in a garlic-based potato soup.

"It was delicious. Had a real nice flavor, and I can tell you there was no soup left over," he said.

Marcella Teplitz started cooking with garlic scapes last year when she received some in her CSA share. One favorite recipe is roasting scapes with a drizzle of olive oil and tossing them in rice.

Shawback said a German woman told him her family boiled the scapes and sprayed the water on tomato plants to keep insects away.

"I just hope to raise a little awareness," Shawback said. "For years we just threw them away. We didn't know!"

Peoria Journal Star writer Clare Howard can be reached at

Garlic Scape Mashed Potatoes

2 pounds Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and cubed

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup garlic scapes, chopped small

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, boil the potatoes in salted water until fork tender. When cooked, drain and mash. Heat the butter until melted and add the cream and garlic scapes. Cook on medium heat until hot. Slowly add to the potatoes while stirring to incorporate. Mix until smooth and season with salt and pepper.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Garlic Scape Pesto

1/4 pound garlic scapes, rough chopped

2 cups basil, fresh and packed

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Key limes, juiced and added to taste

Place the scapes, basil, salt and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until smooth. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Stir in Parmesan cheese. Add salt and lime juice to taste.

Makes 2 cups.

Roasted Garlic Scapes

garlic scapes

extra virgin olive oil

kosher salt

Place scapes tossed in extra virgin olive oil on a pan and sprinkle with kosher salt or sea salt.

Place in 425-degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes or until they are beginning to turn brown. Serve as a side dish.