Georgina Campbell writes about her discovery and love of a lesser-known seasonal vegetable.
It’s fair to say that garlic scapes are a pretty new concept to most Irish cooks, but they came to everyone’s attention in a big way when they famously featured on Donal and Sofie Skehan’s wedding menu in June 2015 – when, in the gorgeous country setting of Lisnavagh House, Co Carlow, the caterers (Jenni Glasgow and Reuven Diaz of Drogheda’s brilliant Eastern Seaboard) included scapes from Drummond House Farm, Co Louth, in two of the dishes served.
Garlic scapes are a bit like asparagus spears and, like asparagus, the season is short, lasting just a few weeks from late May into June.
All of the many varieties of garlic can be divided into two categories, softneck and hardneck. The strongly flavoured softneck garlic is the most familiar type, and it keeps well. Hardneck varieties grow better in northern areas and send up a strong central stalk in summer; they have a milder flavour than softneck varieties and are best used fresh.
Scapes are the flower stalks of hardneck garlic plants and elephant garlic, which is actually a variant of the leek although it looks like a very large garlic; it has an exceptionally mild garlicky flavour which makes it ideal for using raw in salads.
To prevent the plants wasting energy that should be going into bulb production, it is necessary to remove the flower stalks from hardneck garlic in early summer, and this provide a secondary product that can be used in cooking – scapes are ideal for pestos (see below) or garlic scape dressing, for example, and also delicious when deep fried, used in stir fries and barbecues, or to flavour butter.
Garlic is grown on a small scale by producers all over the country and will often be seen at farmers’ markets and speciality food stores in season.
However, as prices for mainstream vegetables are falling to a level that make it unsustainable for farmers to grow them, many enterprising growers are focusing instead on speciality crops, including garlic, that replace imports and can command a premium price.
There are now at least two commercial producers specialising in garlic, and growing a wide range of varieties:
- West Cork Garlic, Coolmountain West, Dunmanway, Co Cork. Bryn Perrin grows a wide range of varieties and offers elephant garlic scapes and a number of other products – including green (fresh) garlic, dried garlic and garlic bulbs for planting – online. Also from Bradley’s Off Licence in Cork and local shops including Urru in Skibbereen, Scallys Supervalu Clonakilty and Manning’s Emporium, Ballylickey, West Cork Garlic is also sold at Bantry and Skibbereen farmers’ markets.
- Drummond House Garlic, Baltry, Co Louth. Peter and Marita Collier grow ten varieties, including elephant garlic, and supply Honest2Goodness Market and Lotts & Co Grocery (www.lottsandco.ie) in Dublin, in addition to a number of local shops.
RECIPE: Drummond Farm Garlic Scape Pesto
“Once a year we have the pleasure of being able to enjoy garlic scapes, a part of the garlic that many people sometimes discard before harvesting. But the scapes are an extremely flavourful part of the plant that can be used in salads, eaten whole or pickled. They’re also great for making this authentic garlic scape pesto. Here’s our recipe for homemade pesto which you can use as a dip with bread or as a sauce with pasta.”
You will need
10 large garlic scapes
1/3 cup of pistachio nuts
1/3 cup of finely grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
Black ground pepper and salt
- Cut the ends off the scapes and then cut them again into 2 inch/5cm pieces.
- Place them into a blender with the pistachio nuts and Parmesan and blend until they are finely chopped.
- Turn the blender back on, on a slow speed and add the olive oil.
- Once the ingredients are evenly blended add salt and pepper to taste and then serve in a bowl.
- The pesto will keep in a fridge covered for a week, or frozen for a month.