Well, we are here…Spring! I have been planning my own garden, sharing ideas for a community garden project with friends, and, of course, cleaning out the deep freeze in anticipation of the opening of the 2022 Farmers Market season. It never fails that I find a few bags of abundance buried at the bottom of the deep freeze…who knew those fermented plums were down there????!!!
And, every spring, as the first fresh produce comes to market, I start planning for the winter months ahead. Some vegetables lend themselves better to freezing than others, of course. My new potatoes, spring onions, carrots, leeks and asparagus usually just get enjoyed fresh (though I have frozen asparagus with success for winter pureed soups). The spring broccoli and cauliflower are good freezer candidates—if you can contain your appetite not to eat all that goodness right up. And a winter staple after the last of my stored garlic is gone has always been garlic scapes—good to freeze and great garlic flavor for soups, stews, sautés. And this year, one stuffed bag of scapes remained. What to do?
Until a few years ago, garlic scapes were almost unknown to most of us. Here is how Deborah Madison in her intriguing book Vegetable Literacy explains these new-age delicacies that were once just tossed away:
Known as garlic scapes, these shoots lure energy away from the bulbs so farmers cut them off. Some are gently curved, others are more wild in their shapes, and shoppers have found them compelling if for no other reason than to admire them. One of the farmers in my market sells packets of pale green powdered scapes that look as if they’d refresh the mouth with a minty essence. But that delicate green powder is definitely all garlic.
Madison’s description is spot on, in my opinion. What looks like a sweet little lily, is a powerhouse of pungent flavor with a rather tough, stringy texture. Not for a raw food dish! Scapes are wonderful, but they take some finesse in the kitchen to use them to their best advantage. If you look way, WAY, back on this blog you’ll find one of my very first posts devoted to The Great Garlic E-scape, where I use them in a simple egg scramble.
I must admit, though, I use garlic scapes mostly as a handy stand-in for the bulb garlic that eventually disappears over the winter, and that’s sort of a disservice because you can easily elevate them to superstar status, as we are going to do here. Scapes in this spring soup are used to flavor the stock, to impart their heady flavor into a seasonal soup that will become as simple and smooth and elegant as the first petals of jocund daffodils.
We are going to take full advantage of produce that should be showing up during the first month or so of farmers market season in most places—leeks, new potatoes, fresh thyme, eggs and the scapes. So you already have a start to your shopping list. Now…let’s break out that big pot!
- Three tablespoons unsalted butter
- Two tablespoon olive oil
- Two cups chopped garlic scapes, flower buds retained, tough woody ends removed
- Six cups vegetable or chicken stock
- One bay leaf, fresh if possible
- Three tablespoons unsalted butter
- Two tablespoon olive oil
- Two cups chopped leeks (white and light green parts), thoroughly washed, root end and tough green leaves removed
- Four cups peeled and diced new potatoes, stored in ice water until needed, then patted dry before adding to the soup
- Two beaten egg yolks, room temperature
- Quarter-cup or so fresh thyme leaves or one tablespoon dried (If using dried thyme from last year’s garden, add it in right after the eggs instead of waiting until the end.)
- Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Note that this earthy stock can be made several days in advance, refrigerated and brought back to room temperature when ready to use in the soup.
- Melt the butter and oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the garlic scapes and sauté, stirring to coat. Reduce heat to medium and add a good teaspoon or so coarse sea salt. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until scapes become soft and start to caramelize a bit, about 20 minutes.
- Add the vegetable or chicken stock with the bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then continue to cook on a low simmer until you have a green, earthy smelling stock that has become slightly reduced, 30-40 minutes.
- Place a large mesh strainer over a mixing bowl and carefully drain the stock. Once all the liquid is in the bowl, press the cooked scapes with a wooden spoon to get all their flavorful juices into the bowl. Discard the scapes and bay leaf; retain the stock.
- Make sure your two egg yolks are separated and at room temperature. Hint: eggs separate easier when cold; then, allow them to warm up. Refrigerate your whites for another use.
- Add the second amounts of oil and butter into a large Dutch oven—if you are making the soup right after the stock, it can be the same pot. Melt the oil and butter over medium-high heat; then, add the chopped leeks and diced potatoes; stir well and often at this point, as the potatoes can stick. Add a big dash of sea salt. Once the leeks and potatoes are glistening and have begun to soften, add the garlic scape stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a steady simmer and continue to cook for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes and leeks are completely soft.
- When the soup is nearly done, remove one cup of liquid and allow it to cool slightly. This is easy to do if you use a shallow ladle and a small measuring cup with handle and spout.
- To finish the soup to a gloriously smooth and rich elegance, very slowly drizzle the cup of hot stock into the eggs while constantly whisking. You are tempering your eggs just as you would for custard or pudding so that they don’t curdle. Once all the liquid has been added and the eggs are smooth, slowly add the egg mixture back into the soup pot, whisking continually until it is all incorporated. It is imperative that the soup not boil. Just heat gently for about five minutes while whisking. You want the eggs to come to a safe temperature, but the soup will curdle if it boils.
- Sprinkle with the fresh thyme leaves and serve immediately, preferably with hot crusty bread.
Prep time includes assembling the kitchenware and chopping the vegetables. The cook time assumes you are making the stock and soup in one day. This soup is best served immediately, but I did experiment with reheating. It will be fine if it is done gently with frequent stirring. The eggs are the culprit, though a delicious one. And if for some reason your yolks curdle during tempering, you can still save the soup by pouring the egg mixture through a fine mesh sieve into the soup pot to remove the curdled bits. Not perfect, but it will work.
Some folks think there is way too much work and waste with leeks, but not me. Leeks are dirty and must be thoroughly washed, of course. It is also true that the outer large green leaves and the root ends are good only for composting. But much of the leek that people would not use in a recipe can be cleaned and saved in a freezer bag for stock. Next to fennel stalks and carrot tops, leeks are my favorite kitchen scrap for making stock—just amazing flavor. I do not fret over cleaning either because I came across the easiest way to clean chopped leeks on a long-ago Martha Stewart cooking show—I chop my leeks, using the white and light green parts, before washing. I submerge the chopped leeks in cold water—maybe twice to get all the grit and dirt removed, separating their pretty rings to make sure they are clean. And…all done! For any recipe that calls for chopped leeks, this is the way to go.
Whether your garlic scapes are fresh from the market or frozen in the deep freeze, you will need to remove the woody stem at the bottom of the scape and the papery stem at the very top. All the rest is yummy. While I hate to waste, the cooked scapes will not be good in the soup—once they have made the stock, their work is done. Discard.
If you are looking for other recipes that celebrate the early market days and spring fare, check out my Leek and Asparagus Soup, or Asparagus Quiche. Consider some Curried Deviled Eggs or some Irish Colcannon. Market basket ready….