We are fast approaching the season for picking delicious wild garlic from our woodland areas. The short season lasts from now until June but it is the bright green leaves which are best early in the season, when they are at their most tender. Harvested later, wild garlic is still edible, and there is the added bonus of the pretty white flowers which can be used as a garnish, or added to salads, and have a delicate garlicky onion taste.
Wild garlic is part of the onion family and the leaves are easily identified as they give off a distinctive garlicky aroma when crushed. (The leaves of lily of the valley look similar but they do not smell remotely of garlic and should not be eaten as they are toxic!)
Equally as versatile as their cousins, leeks, chives, spring onions and regular garlic, wild garlic can be used in any number of dishes: simply wilted and served with a knob of butter, some black pepper and a squeeze of lemon, pounded into salty butter to make garlic butter - delicious on hot crusty bread or smeared over a boned leg of lamb before rolling and roasting. Add (like spinach) to soups and stir-fries and, as a star ingredient in risottos and egg dishes, such as this potato omelette (fritatta). The other two good things about wild garlic that should be mentioned... it's good for you and it's free!
Happy Cooking, E.L.
PS: If wild garlic is unavailable, use baby spinach leaves.
Wild Garlic and Asparagus Risotto ~ Serves 4 (main) or 6 (starter)
450g fresh asparagus
1.2 litres hot vegetable stock
1 tbslp olive oil
3 shallots or small onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely sliced
400g risotto rice
2 glasses white wine
salt and black pepper
2 handfuls of fresh wild garlic leaves, rinsed
50g finely grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
Snap off the bottom of the asparagus stalks and discard. Cut off the asparagus tips and blanch or steam them until just tender. Finely chop the remaining part of the asparagus stalks.
In a large skillet, or wide based pan, heat the oil and gently fry the onion, garlic and celery until soft but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat in the oil.
Turn up the heat slightly and continue cooking the rice for a minute or until it begins to look translucent. Add the wine, one glass at a time, and stir until it has bubbled away or been absorbed.
Stir in the finely chopped asparagus then begin adding the hot stock, turning the heat down a little so that the mixture is simmering gently and the liquid is not evaporating too quickly but having time to be absorbed into the rice. Keep stirring so that the starch in the rice makes the stock turn creamy. When this stock has been absorbed, add the next ladleful.
Carry on like this until almost all the stock has been added, then toss in the roughly chopped wild garlic leaves with the final ladleful of stock. Cook for a further minute or two - the risotto should be creamy and the rice soft but with a slight bite in the centre of the grain - before stirring in the reserved asparagus tips, Parmesan and butter. Check the seasoning, adding salt and black pepper as needed and serve immediately.