I recently met up with one of my blog followers, Di, who also writes a blog about her experiences of living on the canals of France (see Foodie Afloat), which has a wealth of wonderful information for anyone travelling in France. Di and her husband have recently given up sailing the barge and now have a home in Burgundy. But when they’re in UK, it turns out they are only a short walk away from where I live. So recently we met up, which was a lovely thing to do. Di noticed the wild garlic growing along the nearby River Crane was ready for picking and emailed offering to show me where it was. But as it was just before I was travelling to Turin (click here) and I hadn’t time for a river walk, she offered to give me some she’d preserved in olive oil and Maldon sea salt.
Di also offered to tell me where it was growing so I could go along and pick my own when I had time, but I had to confess I wasn’t confident about picking it on my own. I’m not really a forager; I just haven’t the experience and I think it’s good to start by going out with someone who does and not risk picking the wrong thing (perhaps unlikely with the wild garlic because of the smell) and being ill.
I got the photo above from the internet. Wild garlic is from the Allium family – allium ursine – and unlike ‘ordinary’ garlic, it’s not the bulbs you eat but the leaves. It has an abundance of pretty white flowers and you will pick up the smell of garlic near it. It’s in season from about March/April until June/July but is best eaten early for as it matures, the leaves get tougher and more bitter. So try to pick it before the flowers have fully opened.
Like the bulbs of garlic we are more used to, wild garlic has all the same health benefits: it’s a source of calcium, phosphorus, potassium and Vitamin C; it has antibacterial, antiseptic, antiviral and decongestant properties. It’s said to lower cholesterol and is sometimes called nature’s own antibiotic (source: The Food Doctor by Ian Marber).
Health benefits aside, it’s a wonderfully versatile food. The fresh leaves can be used much like spinach and blanched, or wilted in olive oil. Use it in a frittata instead of spinach. Serve it with potatoes, especially some nice new potatoes like Jersey Royals; it must be great with mushrooms too. You can add it to soups and stews or make a pesto with it. Or, as I did tonight, add it to a risotto. And, of course, you can preserve in olive oil and sea salt as Di did to keep it in a jar for longer use. When I opened the jar the wild garlic inside was a wonderful bright, deep green and the garlicky smell was strong but fabulous.
I wanted to keep my risotto very simple so the full flavour of the wild garlic came through. I saw some recipes put ‘ordinary’ garlic in at the beginning but I decided to just add my preserved wild garlic at the end – which I would do slowly, tasting as I went, to get it just right for my taste.
Risotto with Wild Garlic
- about 300ml chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 shallot
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup risotto rice
- 100ml white wine
- salt & pepper
- preserved wild garlic
I took some frozen chicken stock from my freezer and put it in a saucepan to defrost and heat through.
Then I started preparing the risotto. I finely chopped a shallot. I chose to use shallot rather than onion for its milder and sweeter flavour.
I gently cooked the shallot until softening in the olive oil. Then I added the risotto rice and stirred to coat all the grains and then ‘toast’ them a little. This ensures the grains stay separate but still allows them to release enough starch so you can obtain that classic creamy consistency, essential for a good risotto.
When the rice is well coated, add a good amount of white wine. Stir well and over a medium heat allow the rice to absorb all the wine. Now start adding the stock, ladleful by ladleful, allowing each amount to be absorbed by the rice before adding the next. It’s important to go slowly and add the stock bit by bit, stirring all the while to achieve the creamy consistency. I love doing this. It’s such a gentle, relaxing thing to do, watching your risotto come together and slowly stirring. For me this is the only way to make a proper risotto and I’m not keen on the idea of cooking it in the oven (as some people do!) or even (I’ve heard) using a pressure cooker. A good risotto needs time, patience and loving care.
When you’ve used up all the stock, season with some salt and pepper (remember the stock will have salt and the preserved wild garlic, to go into it, will have salt), and check the rice is cooked. It should be al dente – be cooked through but still have a slight bite to it.
I then added a rounded teaspoon of the preserved wild garlic and grated over just a little Parmesan. Then I stirred them through carefully and put the lid on the pan and left to rest for a couple of minutes. Then it was ready to spoon on to a plate.
I served it with a simple green salad on the side. The risotto had a fabulous flavour. It was strong (I didn’t need more than the teaspoon for my one portion) but incredibly good: pungent as garlic is, but with a sweetness, and I detected a slightly lemony taste to it too. I was so glad I’d kept it simple so I could really appreciate the flavour. But I can also see the rest of my jar will be a great addition to sauces or soups, or served with grilled chicken and other meats. It’s endlessly versatile and really gorgeous so I’m very grateful to Di for introducing me to it and my lovely gift.