Monday, June 22, 2009

What the hell are garlic scapes?

Earlier this week, Alex strode into the studio carrying a huge cardboard box hoisted like a prize. "Garlic Scapes!" he declared, but honestly, he might as well have been speaking another language. I was convinced I'd heard him wrong, that actually the box he came in with would contain something from my known universe of food. Something that sounded like garlic scapes. Pickled scallops, maybe. Charles grapes. Dana and I were both throwing at the time, something close to a million sorbet bowls for me, a similar amount of spoon rests for Dana. We switched off our wheels and turned in unison to peer into the depths of the box from which tiny green tendrils were winding. This is when it became clear that these were not a known entity, not a gnarled plate or a licked date (I'm reaching). No, these were something else entirely.

Garlic scapes are the curly green stalks that grow from a head of subterranean garlic. They look like long green onions wound into loose ringlets; they seem like thin delicate little things but then resist like bedsprings when unwound. But most important for my purpose here is what they taste like. So lean back and imagine this: when you take a bite of raw garlic--come on, I know you've all done it at some point or another--you get this out of tune rock band of sharp flavors, pungent and overpowering, and lurking quietly beneath all that noise is the flavor that the garlic will cook down to, buttery and rich and very very... well, garlicy, but its hard to even detect it, let alone make sense of the flavor for all the raucous that the bitterness is raising on your tongue. Garlic scapes in their raw state are like that experience with the volume turned down and the talent turned up. You get some of that pungency, a virtuousic solo instead of a skull-splitting shred, and some of that buttery garlicness, but the disparate flavors are suddenly in harmony. There's still some bite, but it's not going to leave you with a headache, there's enough richness to bring you back for more. Cooked, they're somewhere between a green bean and asparagus, grassy and light with just the barest hint of garlic flavor. They're completely awesome and they're amazing in everything.

See, you probably know all this, you in your well stocked gourmet kitchen, you superstar with a whisk and a saute pan, but I didn't. I had no idea. I had never even heard the word garlic scapes before Alex sent some of that enormous box full home with us, let alone processed the flavor.
But since we did, they've been in everything that has come out of the kitchen. The photos here are just of the pizza we put them on (raw but chopped thinly on the bias) but this week we've braised them in turmeric with chicken breast, added to a fresh gardeny pasta sauce, tossed into quesedillas. Every meal lately has featured them in some form or another and while I can't get enough, I feel like the bag we brought home hasn't even changed in size. It's like a mass of wriggling squid in freeze frame everytime I look in the fridge but I swear to God I think they're multiplying.

Anyway, suddenly this thing I'd never heard of is an integral component (and one that, I know, won't last long). But maybe the weirdest thing about this discovery is this: learning about garlic scapes was like learning a new word and then finding that it's incredibly common. I hear them mentioned everywhere. I've suddenly tuned in only to realize that half the nouns in the language right now have been replaced with scape. Somebody goes to the farmer's market and brings home a bunch of scapes, somebody else has a long standing opinion on their proper use, a third person keeps a huge bag full in her fridge, half the world posts (far superior) blog entries about them. I mean, come on, world, how long has this been going on? And more importantly, WHAT ELSE DON'T I KNOW ABOUT!?

If there are suddenly garlic scapes all over the radar, what else might be just underneath the surface? Is there some sort of better heat? Is there a different water? Tell me! Wait, no, don't.

In essence, I guess this is the wonderful ecstatic thing about becoming a foodie. Food was always such a flat map for me, a known quantity, and suddenly in the last couple years I'm learning not only that I don't know everything about food but I'm constantly reminded that actually I might not know anything and, God willing, maybe I never will. I'm hard pressed to imagine anything better than continuing down this road and eternally finding nestled past every bend an entirely new way of thinking and feeling, a new experience that is always, inevitably, a game changer.

This week it was garlic scapes, but just imagine what could be peeking over the edge of the box next year, or ten years from now. What will I be discovering then? What will we be eating? I have absolutely no idea, not even the idea of an idea. Now tell me. Could there be anything more exciting than that?


nancy said...

Love the rock band metaphor. Nailed it!

eisha said...

I keep hearing about these, too, and had no idea what they were. Now I must try some for myself.

Yesica N. Cook said...

I'd never heard of them either, though won't be trying them - can't eat garlic :(

But just saw this and thought of you guys, in case you're desperately trying to use them up:

Dana said...

Eisha, you should definitely try them. And Yesica, that pesto looks amazing! I'll have to check the farmer's market this week to see if garlic scapes are still around. We've already gone through our entire bag of them. said...

I didn't realize how versatile garlic scrapes were. I grew my own garlic and I just put the scapes into the compost pile. Now I am seeing them everywhere.