A creamy bowl of Garlic Scape Risotto is a culinary delight and a fantastic way to use some of that very special garlic scape bounty only available in early summer. Risotto really is quite easy to make; no fancy tricks - just some patient stirring and you'll have results to smack your lips over. (No garlic scapes, no problem; sub in asparagus or green beans and add a few extra cloves of garlic for an equally delicious result.) [Skip to recipe.]
Calling all garlic lovers.
The scapes are ready! The scapes are ready!
The season is here - that first glorious flush of fresh garlic heaven has arrived in gardens and markets. The all-too-short season for garlic scapes is here and one must make the most of it.
If you're lucky enough to have garlic scapes in your garden (I don't) or find them at the market (we didn't) or a friend gifts you some (yay! yes! thank you friend!) you are set to enjoy a bit of garlic deliciousness.
When my friend, Ronaye, called me to come and pick her garlic scapes if I wanted them, I said YES before she could get the whole question out. Are you sensing a theme here? A friend calls with garden or forest goodies to share, and I'm there like a dirty shirt, ready to
mooch relieve them of their burdens.
Well, not only did I get to peek at her glorious garden, I came home with two grocery bags of garden-fresh garlic scapes (7 lbs of them!).
So it's been garlic mania around here. I've made a few batches of my garlic scape pesto, a couple batches of this amazing garlicky risotto (we gobbled up the first one before I could take photos), froze a bag of chopped scapes, and am now mulling over my next garlic scape concoction (maybe a salad with new potatoes and garlic scapes).
What are Garlic Scapes?
Those weirdly curling stems and buds look almost alien, twisting in bizarre and beautiful loops. Garlic scapes are the stem and flower bud of hardneck garlic varieties. They are best removed from the plant so that it doesn't expend energy developing the flower, and instead puts all its energy growing a bigger garlic bulb under the soil. As soon as the plant sets its bud atop its long curling stem, the scapes are snapped off where the first leaf starts. Some people discard them, but they are a delicacy, an early summer treat.
So How do you Prepare Them?
Easy. Just trim off and discard the stringy end above the bud (the lighter green bulge on the stem), cut off the bud - it's delicious and usable as long as it's not too big and tough. If the thicker bottom end of the stem is very light-coloured and tough (you can tell when you cut through it if it is resistant to the knife), trim off the tough part, then chop the rest of the stem into whatever lengths you want for use in your recipe.
Give it all a good rinse in a colander, pat dry, and you're good to go. Your garlic scapes are now ready for all kinds of delicious recipes: add them to stir fries, stews, soups, casseroles, on top of pizzas, sauté them in butter, grill them whole, finely chop them in salads, make pesto, or stir them into this divine garlic scape risotto.
You can even pop the chopped scapes into a freezer bag (no blanching required) and freeze them for future garlic deliciousness.
What do Garlic Scapes Taste Like?
Well garlic, of course, but the funny thing is that when they are cooked, their roar of garlic flavour turns into a whisper. The scapes really are mild when cooked, with a grassy herbaceousness - almost like a faintly garlicky asparagus. That is why I've actually added a couple cloves of regular garlic to this risotto recipe; the extra layer of garlic flavour helps add punch. After all, when something has the word garlic in the title there should be GARLIC, man!
Risotto, the beloved Italian rice dish, is a wonderful way to showcase this delicious and unusual vegetable. A perfect risotto is luxurious, cheesy, and creamy, with each individual grain of rice still al dente and toothsome, giving just a bit of resistance to the bite. The rice is napped in a lusciously smooth sauce made without cream, just the lovely starches coaxed from the rice as you constantly stir, add a little liquid, and stir some more.
Turn Those Garlic Scapes into a Delicious Creamy Risotto
Just sauté up those stems you've prepared. Then set them aside.
Cook some onion and regular garlic cloves (to add more garlic punch - the scapes get quite mild when cooked). Than add the special variety of risotto rice and pour in some vermouth or white wine to add rich flavour, and start bathing it all in simmering broth. All it takes is some patience and love - just add a ladle full of broth at a time, and then stir until it's all incorporated.
Stir in a handful of Parmesan cheese at the end, then serve this luscious garlic scape risotto to your hungry crew or eager guests.
Garnish it with a whole sautéed garlic scape to make your risotto a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.
Two tricks for the best risotto experience:
- Have all your ingredients ready (chopped and measured) before you start, so you can give your full attention to stirring the risotto
- Serve your risotto immediately after it's finished cooking - the creamy sauce thickens up if it sits too long and the rice gets softer, losing its toothsome bite.
If you haven't made risotto before, give it a try - it's easier than you think. And so worth the little bit of effort.
* * * * *
Kitchen Frau Notes: If you don't have any garlic scapes, substitute in 2 cups of asparagus or cut green beans and increase the garlic to 4 cloves. You'll have an equally fantastic asparagus or bean and garlic risotto.
Risotto requires a specific variety of extra starchy rice that keeps its shape and firmness when cooked, but releases its starch to make a creamy sauce (regular rice would turn to mush).
There are several varieties of risotto rice; arborio rice is most commonly used, but I prefer using carnaroli rice if I can get it. (Our local Italian Center usually carries it.) It's less likely to get overcooked and the grains of rice are a little larger. They hold their shape better during cooking and get a bit creamier than arborio rice. Carnaroli rice takes up to 5 minutes longer to cook, than arborio rice, but it is worth the the extra time.
Do not wash risotto rice before cooking as this would remove some of the starch that you need for the creamy character of the dish.
Garlic Scape Risotto
- 6 cups (1.45 litres) chicken stock, homemade or good quality purchased
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons water
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 cups (250gms) trimmed and chopped garlic scapes, (1-inch/2.5cm lengths)
- optional - a few garlic scapes for garnish (stringy tip trimmed off)
- 1 onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1½ cups (300gms) carnaroli rice (or arborio rice)
- ½ cup (120ml) dry white vermouth (or white wine)
- zest of one lemon (plus another lemon to zest onto the risotto for garnish, if desired)
- ⅔ cup (80gms) finely grated Parmesan cheese
Pour the chicken stock into a saucepan and set onto the stove on low heat to bring it to a simmer. Keep it simmering while you make the risotto.
In a large heavy-bottomed dutch oven or high-sided sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the water over medium-high heat. Add the garlic scape pieces and sauté them, stirring often, until they are tender, but still a bit crisp (3 to 4 minutes), and the water has evaporated. Remove them to a bowl and set them aside. If you are using garlic scapes for a garnish, sauté them in the same skillet until lightly browned in spots, and set them aside to top the risotto later.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the pan in which you cooked the garlic scapes and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook for two minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent. Reduce the heat to medium.
Add the rice. Cook and stir for 2 to 3 more minutes, until the rice is well coated and some of the grains turn opaque and start to toast in a few spots.
Add the vermouth or white wine and cook and stir until it is evaporated, about 1 minute.
Add the simmering stock, one soup ladle full (about ½ cup) at a time, stirring after each addition, and continuing to stir frequently as it bubbles and cooks. Don't add the next ladleful of stock until most of the previous stock has been absorbed and when you scrape the spoon down the center of the pan, it leaves a clean path with the liquid slowly oozing in to refill it. Never let the risotto cook completely dry. Stir frequently (but you don’t have to stir constantly).
Continue adding stock, cooking, and stirring until you have used all but the last ½ cup of the stock. This whole process should take about 20 to 25 minutes (~20 for arborio rice, ~25 for carnaroli), and the rice should still have a firm bite to the center of each grain, but the outside should be creamy and soft. Stir in the cooked garlic scapes and cook for another minute or two until they are heated through.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, the lemon zest, and the Parmesan cheese. Taste and add more salt if it needs it (but I find it usually doesn’t, unless your stock was unsalted, as the Parmesan and stock both add enough saltiness).
Stir in the last ½ cup of hot stock to thin the risotto. The final texture of the risotto should be loose, with a bit of liquid pooling and visible between the rice kernels.
Serve immediately with additional lemon zest to grate over it and a few sautéed garlic scapes for garnish, if desired.
Serves 4 (or 6 as a side dish).
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Thanks for the detailed directions Margaret! I have had a box of risotto sitting downstairs for a while now. With no directions on the box, I wondered what to do with it, so I am going to try your recipe tonight. We don't have any garlic scapes, so thinking of using fresh basil, mushrooms and freshly dehydrated thyme instead? Have a great weekend!
Your flavour combination sounds absolutely delicious, Meredith. Mushrooms with those herbs will be great. I think I want to be at your house for supper tonight! Gardening has made me too tired to cook. Have a great rest-of-the-weekend, too. I think we can enjoy the sunshine, finally!
Good morning Margaret- as it turned out, I made the risotto yesterday for supper and it was amazing! I took my time, following each step carefully and used mushrooms and fresh basil instead of the garlic scapes. Garry was impressed too. My first attempt was a success, thanks to a great teacher! Enjoy the sunshine over the next couple of days 🙂
Aw, that just makes me so happy, Meredith! I love hearing that you made it and liked it. I love it myself when I try a new technique that I've never tried before and it turns out to be simple and successful. So glad it worked well for you. We all just love risotto - so creamy and comforting and delicious. I make it often.
And a happy summer day to you, too. Yay, it's finally going to be a relatively sunny week! The garden is going to go crazy, I think.