Maybe you’ve heard of garlic scapes, those curlicue green things that show up at farmers’ markets around this time of year. They taste faintly of garlic and are often (for reasons I don’t totally understand) blended into an alternative pesto. But have you heard of leek scapes? Like garlic scapes, leek scapes are the shoots and flower buds of leek plants that emerge in the spring as the leeks attempt to go to seed.
About this time last year, I was walking by the far-past-prime overwintered leeks in my parents’ garden when I saw a few scapes waving in the wind. I honestly had never heard of people eating them at the time, but I thought I’d give it a go. After a million meals of eggs and kale raab during the springtime garden dearth, it seemed like a good idea. I chopped them into easy-to-manage lengths, tossed them in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and threw them on a hot grill. I burned my fingers and my tongue grabbing hot spears off the barbecue and stuffing them into my mouth, but the flavor made it all worthwhile.
I took these photos yesterday and then promptly ate about 2/3 of that whole pan of grilled leek scapes. Juicy and mildly allium-y, grilled leek scapes are the best thing EVER (or at least this week). I’m sure you could do them up a million different ways, but I can’t seem to find the motivation to try anything more complicated than minimal seasoning and simple grilling. To fancy them up a bit, I just pulled a jar of homemade romesco out of the freezer to pair with my next batch of grilled scapes, inspired by news of this event.
I have found the easiest way to harvest leek scapes is to gently tug on the exposed shoot until it pops out of the layered casing. The scapes are often straight, but occasionally they go wonky or grow super tall. Unlike hardneck garlic that will continue to ripen a bulb even after the scapes are harvested, what’s left of these leeks are pretty much toast at this point.
Since my first experiments with leek scapes, I have actually seen them at farmers’ markets, but they’re not too common, and they don’t have a very long season. Most leek-growing farmers, my parents’ included, are anxious to tear out sad overwintered produce to make room for ground prep and early summer crops. If you grow your own leeks, you might want to let some go so that you’ll get of this sweet spring surprise.