The first green asparagus of spring get a whole lot of love. Which I wholly understand — it's been a long winter, and they're totally delicious. But just a month or two behind them, there’s another green shoot that deserves its own parade: the garlic scape.
Garlic scapes, also known as garlic curls, or, adorably, whistles, are the twisted green tops of garlic plants. They’re generally cut to about eight-inch lengths, ranging from slightly bent stalks to irregular curlicues. Scapes are harvested in late spring/early summer (the season is hard-to-predict and fairly brief, but is happening right now in Portland) as a neat little gardeners trick: trim off the tips before the seed pods swells and matures, and in exchange that energy goes towards making larger garlic bulbs underground. And, as an added bonus, you get to eat the scapes.
Like garlic itself, scapes pack a punch when raw (though they’re not quite as intense as the bulb). You can use this to your advantage, adding a fine mince to dishes that will benefit from a strong flavor. But with just a bit of heat, scapes’ harshness softens, leaving a mellower garlic note, paired with their spring-green taste.
Scapes are easily turned into a pungent pesto—it's got some bite, but can be tamed by tossing with hot pasta or spreading on bread and placing it under the broiler. They can be brushed with oil and tossed directly on the grill, or bathed in vinegar for a pungent pickle. Like spring ramps, scapes work especially well when paired with mellow ingredients that let their flavor shine through: cook them up with eggs, pasta, or creamy dairy-rich dishes.
For this dish, I put the scapes up against a backdrop of saffron-scented couscous, along with briny-sweet shrimp, creamy feta, and bright fresh mint leaves. It's simple enough to throw together for a weeknight dinner or picnic, but elegant enough for a fancy meal. I trimmed the scapes into bite-sized lengths, to make it a bit more manageable, but if you're game it's far more fun to leave them as they are — like little green scraps of ribbon from your own spring garden party.
Israeli Couscous with Garlic Scapes, Shrimp and Feta
yields ~4-5 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups Israeli couscous
1 ½ cups water
1 cup vegetable broth (or just use all water, and add a bit more salt)
½ teaspoon salt
1 hefty pinch saffron
juice of ½ lemon
6-8 garlic scapes, cut into pieces or left whole
1 pound shrimp, shelled
⅓ cup crumbled feta
a handful fresh mint leaves, roughly torn if they’re large
salt and pepper
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the couscous, and cook for a few minutes, stirring so that the couscous is coated with oil and lightly toasted. Add the water, broth, saffron and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat until it’s just high enough to maintain a simmer. Simmer, covered, until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender, ~8-10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit, covered, to absorb any remaining liquid for a few minutes. Then add the lemon juice, stir to fluff/combine, and add salt and pepper to taste (you can also drizzle in more olive oil if you want). Transfer to a serving platter.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the garlic scapes, and saute for a minute or two, until they turn bright green and tender. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, and scatter on top of the couscous.
Add the shrimp, and saute for a few minutes, stirring, until pink and cooked through. Season with salt, and scatter, along with any pan juices, on top of the couscous and scapes. Top with the feta and fresh mint, and serve.