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Attention, garlic lovers: It’s time to think outside the bulb.

Make that above the bulb. Garlic scapes, the long, curly edible green shoots that emerge above ground while garlic heads ripen below, are a spring delicacy. Verdant and herby, scapes are fresh-tasting and mild. They’re easy on the nose and the breath. They appeal to root-to-stem cooking sensibilities. Packed with fiber and Vitamins A and C, they’re also good for you.

“The appeal of scapes is that they’re the first garlic of the season,” says executive chef Kieron Hales of Zingerman’s Cornman Farms in Dexter. “After a long winter, chefs are eager for fresh produce.”

James Rigato, chef/owner of Mabel Gray in Hazel Park, calls scapes a “utility aromatic.” On a recent visit to Italy, he observed scapes — raw, salted, pickled, pureed, lightly sauteed and roasted — in use everywhere. Rigato’s redux of Green-Bean Amandine features Michigan asparagus and scapes sauteed in brown butter, served with almonds and fresh lemon. At Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails in Detroit, chef/co-owner Douglas Hewitt Jr. features scallops with scapes grilled with olive oil.

Scapes season is short, so grab ’em now at farmers markets and specialty produce shops. Thanks to this year’s cool, rainy spring, scapes are around a bit longer than usual, but only for another couple weeks.

 Cooking with scapes

Remove the tear-shaped white bulb, excess flowers and leaves. Use scapes generously for bigger flavor.

Scatter over soups, salads, seafood, steaks, stir-frys, pizzas and savory toasts. Slice thinly and saute in olive oil and butter for punchier pastas.

Roast with vegetables.

Pack into compound butters.

Substitute for chives and parsley.

Garnish plates with artful arrangements of long, curly scapes, including the bulb.

Pair with young, mild cheeses.

Toss with strawberries and cheese, drizzle with good vinegar and top with fresh herbs.

Pile (fresh or pickled) onto sandwiches for fresh flavor and distinctive mouthfeel.

Grill, lightly coated with olive oil, salt and pepper.

 Preserving Scapes

Refrigerated, scapes can last up to a month. Can’t use them now? Here’s how to keep their flavor going:

Pickle fresh or smoked.

Dry, then grind into a powder.

Infuse scapes into oils and vinegars.

Make pesto. Use only scapes or go 50-50 with basil. Quick-blanch to reduce fibrousness.

Freeze. Pack unblanched scapes into a freezer bag and squeeze out the air.

 Garlic-Scape Pesto

[Kieron Hales, Cornman Farms]

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons salt 

1 cup olive oil

10 ounces garlic scapes, leaves and stems removed

1 teaspoon salt

Zest of ½ lemon

⅓ cup finely chopped, unsalted roasted pistachios

½ cup finely grated Parmesan, plus more for serving

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon farmhouse honey (optional)*

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bring a pot of water to a boil with 1 tablespoon salt.

Fill a bowl with ice, enough water to just cover the ice and 1 tablespoon salt.

Immerse scapes in the boiling water. Wait until it returns to a boil.

Remove scapes, plunge in the ice water. Wait 5 minutes.

Remove the scapes and drain over a kitchen towel; wrap and squeeze tightly to remove moisture.

Toast nuts in the oven for 5 minutes.

Rough-chop scapes into 1-centimeter pieces.

Place scapes, nuts and oil in a food processor. Blitz until roughly smooth.

Add the cheese, lemon zest and 1 teaspoon salt. Blend.

Transfer pesto to a bowl and adjust seasoning.

Store, covered with a slick of olive oil in a sealed canning jar. Keeps, refrigerated, for a few weeks.

Robin Watson is a veteran food and features writer.

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