Each fall, Loretta Januska plants some 500 cloves of garlic, protecting them from weeds and the hard winter ahead by tucking them deep into her garden beds and covering them with mulch. Nine months later, they emerge from dormancy, breaking the soil’s surface in long, curly tendrils called scapes. “They come in just in time,” she says. “By June, we have eaten all of last year’s garlic. We have to cut the scapes anyway — otherwise, they drain the bulb’s nutrients — and they taste so good and fresh.”
Yes they do. I’ve never met Loretta, who lives in Ohio, but I’ve eaten her garlic — or rather, its offspring.
Five hundred bulbs a year leaves plenty for eating, planting, and passing around to friends and family. Lucky me: As it happens, her daughter Carla lives here in Minneapolis, and she is both a gardener and a generous friend. She gave me a mound of scapes… and Loretta’s phone number.
Bright green and loopy, scapes are charming yet initially suspect. Sure, they smell like food, but they are every bit as firm as flower stalks. “They’re a lot like green onion tops. I mostly use the tender parts, from the bulb to the tip,” explains Loretta. “Although, I do sometimes cut up the harder parts and cook them.”
A Gambino by birth, Loretta likes to use the scape’s lighter, less redolent, garlic flavor in a bagnetto verde, a savory spread whose name translates to “little green bath.” It is traditionally made with parsley, anchovies, garlic, vinegar-soaked bread crumbs, and olive oil. Loretta makes hers with scapes and sweet basil, skipping the anchovies and adding lots of salt and pepper. “I do sometimes put wine vinegar in my bagnetto,” she says. “That Lynne Rossetto Kasper keeps insisting we are going to kill ourselves with the garlic and olive oil, and I think the vinegar helps keep the bacteria down.”
Apparently, many years ago, Loretta got into a heated message-board debate with The Splendid Table host, who insisted that bagnetto — indeed, any olive oil and fresh herb concoction — should be stored in the refrigerator. “Of course, all the books tell you to keep it on the counter because it tastes better at room temperature,” says Loretta, “but Lynne Rossetto Kasper says she wouldn’t leave it out for even an hour because of botulism. So now I tell everyone: Put it in the fridge. So far, no one has died.”
Mine never made it to the fridge. Bagnetto is not unlike chimichurri in that it literally tastes good on everything from bruschetta to pork and pasta to goat cheese. Loretta eats hers on home-baked Italian bread, toasted with a slice of roasted tomato and a thin shaving of Parmigiano-Reggiano, but as she says, “You could put it on wood chips.”
So, it’s all well and good about the scapes, but what about that Gambino reference, I have to ask, are there any ties… you know, Carla and Carlo?
“We don’t ask.”
Right. Scapes should be in the markets for the next few weeks; I found them at the Seward Co-op for $4.99 a pound.
Recipe based on suggestions from Loretta Januska
Stale bread, preferably Italian or baguette
⅛ c red wine vinegar
½ tsp anchovy paste
¾ c olive oil
4 tbsp finely chopped garlic scapes
3 tbsp finely chopped basil
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
1. Pull the insides out of the bread, about ¾ c, pour the red wine vinegar over it, and set aside to absorb
2. Whisk the anchovy paste into the olive oil
3. Chop the garlic scapes, basil, parsley, and bread crumbs and whisk together with the olive oil
4. Salt and pepper to taste
5. Allow the bagnetto verde to rest for at least half a day in the refrigerator before serving