Over the past month or so I have noticed a number of bloggers posting recipes or musings on the wonders of wild garlic (Allium ursinum). Recently in season this feral cousin to the humble chive (thank you Wikipedia ) is supposed to have a much more delicate flavour of garlic, just as chives do of onion, making it perfect for adding to salads, pestos, frittatas and the like. Unfortunately though, having seen neither hide nor hair (blub nor leaf?) of it anywhere wild garlic remains firmly on my “to try” list.
Through my recent conversion to a greengrocer girl though I have discovered another seasonal spring allium, also hitherto missed by my dependence on the supermarket and with which I have developed a mild obsession. Fresh garlic, also known as wet or green garlic, is same as the ordinary garlic we use all year round (Allium sativum) but in its freshly grown state before it has been dried out. In its young state the papery layers that usually enclose each clove remain wet and edible, and again the garlic flavour is much milder meaning it too can be eaten raw finely sliced into salads, or cooked as we would leeks or onions.
This all sounded great in principle, and so when I saw fresh garlic on my first trip to the greengrocers I immediately snapped some up, sure that I would easily figure out what to do with when I got home. I remembered seeing a River Cottage episode a while back which featured Hugh and chums making fresh garlic bhajis and fresh garlic soup and so assumed a quick Google would turn up loads of ideas for what to do with my pungent bounty; unfortunately this was not quite the case. Although there were a number of sites with suggestions or recipes for wet garlic, including those from the River Cottage show, there was nothing that seemed to definitively jump out at me and my natural indecisiveness began to take hold over this unused and unknown ingredient. Should I make garlic and potato cakes, garlic soup or garlic risotto? I began to regret my impulse buy, as I worried how I would actually manage to use garlic as a vegetable. Finally though I made a decision, use it as you would a leek had been the recommendation, so that was exactly what I would do, making a relatively safe choice of garlic risotto.
Thus I finely sliced the bulbs whole, including some of the stalk, and sweated them slowly in a little olive oil and butter before adding the rice and proceeding as I would with any other risotto, wine, stir, stock, stir stir, stock, stir stir, and so on. The result was nice, but I wondered if I might get a better result if I treated the garlic less like a leek and more like what it was; garlic. So the following week on my second trip to the greengrocers I bought myself some more fresh garlic but this time roasted it whole with some olive oil and a pinch of sea salt until it was golden outside with beautifully soft cloves of garlic purée within, which I squeezed out and stirred into the risotto in its final stages, together with a squeeze of lemon, some grated parmesan and some freshly chopped parsley. As I’d also picked up a bunch of wonderful, seasonal, British asparagus at the greengrocers I decided to roast some of that too to eat alongside the risotto, rolling it around in the garlicky oil leftover in the roasting tin before popping it in the oven for around 15 minutes.
The result was definitely something I’d eat again, and in fact have on an almost weekly basis for the past month now. I will be very sad when the fresh garlic goes away, but perhaps it will be for the best, at least for my friends, co-workers and random strangers forced to sit next to me on the bus.
Roasted Garlic and Lemon risotto with Roasted Asparagus
- Three bulbs fresh spring garlic
- A small onion, finely chopped
- 100g arborio or other risotto rice
- 500ml of good quality chicken or vegetable stock, hot
- A small glass of white wine (or if you’re like me, just a couple of good glugs)
- A wedge of a lemon (about an eighth of the fruit)
- A handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- Some freshly grated parmesan
- Olive oil
- A knob of butter
- Salt (I used Maldon Sea Salt Flakes, because I love them)
- A bunch of British asparagus
Heat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Cut the tops of the garlic bulbs and place them in a shallow roasting tin, pour some olive oil over the cut top of each bulb and sprinkle with a good pinch of sea salt then pop into the oven for 35 to 40 minutes until golden and soft.
Take the bulbs out of the roasting tin and leave for a few minutes, pop the asparagus into the empty tin, turning the spears over to give them a nice even coating in the left over garlicky oil, adding a little more if there isn’t enough left in the tin. Season and put to one side for the time being while you make the risotto.
When the garlic bulbs are cool enough to handle gently squeeze the soft internal purée out onto a plate or bowl. If you want to avoid garlicky hands you can also do this with a couple of forks or spoons like I did.
To make the risotto melt the butter with a little oil in a medium sized pan, add the onion and cook gently in the butter for a couple of minutes until soft and translucent but not coloured. Stir in the rice, giving all the grains a good coating in the butter, then pour in the wine and allow it to bubble until evaporated. Begin adding the hot stock, just a little at a time, stirring constantly but gently over a low heat so that the rice bubbles softly. Repeat this until the stock has almost all been absorbed, leaving the risotto when it is still slightly soupy.
The risotto will take about 25 minutes to absorb all the stock, while the asparagus will take about 15 minutes to roast at the same temperature as the garlic, so pop the tin containing the spears into the oven when you are about half way through adding the stock.
When the risotto is finished stir in the roasted garlic purée and grated parmesan, cover and leave to rest for a few minutes.
To finish, add the finely chopped parsley, squeeze over the lemon, stir and season according to taste. Spoon the risotto out onto two plates and top each with half the asparagus spears.