Ramps get all the glory, but scapes are worth waiting for.

By Margaret Eby
Updated: May 16, 2019
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Around mid- to late April, it feels like everyone in the Northeast corridor who usually frequents the farmer's market begins to contract a feverish obsession with ramps. Unless you arrive as the farmers are unloading the trucks, odds are that the table where the ramps were will look like an extremely small, ramp-specific cyclone hit it and took away all the precious alliums from the market. 

And look, I get it. Ramps have a delicious, mild onion-y flavor, and they taste great made into a compound butter. But more importantly, they're the first sign of real, actual spring. After untold winter months of ice and dirt slush, ramps are a harbinger that the long days of summer are possible and on their way. But over the years I have scoured the markets in this season, I have become disenchanted with ramps. You see, my heart actually belongs to another lesser-known alliium, one that appears closer to the official beginning of summer, whose strong bright flavor is welcome on all manner of vegetables and grilled meats. I'm talking about garlic scapes.

Garlic scapes, if you've never seen them, look like super-sized chives, or scallions without the white parts at the ends. They're most common around the beginning of June, but they'll start popping up here and there starting about now, in late May. They're the stalks that grow from the bulb of a garlic bulb, what those tiny tendrils of green that poke out from garlic you've left too long in the fridge would become if nurtured into full form. Left alone, they'll sprout flowers eventually. But often they're culled from the bulbs to allow the garlic below the surface to better mature, leaving you with a pile of fragrant, long green garlic scapes.

They taste like a slightly gentler version of the garlic bulb you're probably used to adding into your regular dishes, which makes them an excellent addition to all kinds of summer dinners. My favorite thing to do with them is to make them into garlic scape pesto—just put them in the food processor with some Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, a handful of sunflower seeds, salt, and pepper, and slowly drizzle in olive oil until it turns into a fragrant, delicious thick green sauce. I use it to dress pasta, of course, but also as a sandwich spread and, thinned out with more oolive oil and a little lemon juice, into a salad dressing. If I have too much on hand, I freeze the pesto for later use, when scapes aren't as easy to come by.

If you have a grill, garlic scapes are an excellent thing to throw on there—they get tender and taste like green beans with a lot of garlic. They're also great in stirfry. I've roasted them and eaten them with brussel sprouts and eggplant, and I haven't been sorry about it at all. I bet they would be incredible in mashed potatoes or made into a butter. You can keep your ramps, I'll be over here waiting for the scapes to drop. 

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