When the wild garlic and English asparagus seasons coincide, then one can think of numerous ways of enjoying this seasonal and foraged produce. When I have lots of foraged wild garlic in hand, I often stir-fry it in butter and serve as a side dish with pretty much any meal. Same goes for in-season asparagus. They taste best cooked on their own. But one of my family’s favourites remains this spring risotto made with local English asparagus and wild garlic, infused with its subtle garlicky flavour. And the dish looks even prettier when adorned with white jasmine-like wild garlic flowers which are also edible.
What’s with the stock?
The secret to a good risotto, in my opinion, lies in the rice and stock used to make it. Although this risotto involves no meat and is essentially a vegetarian dish, I often cook it with chicken stock rather than veg. Chicken stock adds a whole new dimension to the risotto’s flavour profile. When it comes to stock for risotto, I like to use a homemade one. And the best homemade chicken stock in my kitchen undoubtedly comes from the leftover broth from pressure cooking chicken with a bit of turmeric, bay leaves, and aromatic spices like cinnamon and cloves. Often when I make chicken curry or biryani, I par-cook the chicken in a pressure cooker. I always add a little extra water so that I’m left with some excess stock to stash away for risottos. Simply store the broth in a ziplock bag or reusable container in the freezer where it will keep well for 3 months or more. If you’re vegan or prefer a veg stock, then you can easily make one by pressure-cooking vegetable scraps. I often freeze the peels and greens of vegetables like carrots, radish, outer layers of onion/cabbage/fennel, stalks of cauliflower/broccoli/coriander/dill, etc. Simply freeze them until you’ve gathered enough to make a tasty broth by boiling in a pressure cooker. This comes naturally if you follow a low-waste lifestyle. However, if you’re looking to buy a readymade stock, then go for the fresh liquid stocks found in the chilled section of most supermarkets. They may have a shorter shelf life but they’re a bit tastier.
Why Carnaroli rice for risotto?
The second important element in a good risotto is rice. Often people use arborio rice for risotto as it retains more of its natural starch content and releases it during cooking resulting in a firmer, chewier, and creamier rice compared to long-grained rice like basmati, etc.
However, I prefer to use carnaroli rice for risotto due to its higher starch content and firmer texture than its widely available cousin, arborio. It also has a longer grain and high amylose content which holds its shape better than arborio during the slow cooking required for making risottos. It’s harder to overcook this rice because it absorbs more liquid than arborio, making your risotto taste creamier yet a tad al dente, as risotto should be. It is also a healthy option because the rice germ is absorbed in the grain retaining all the nutritional values of brown rice.
Wild garlic is commonly found growing in the English countryside in early spring. It isn’t generally available in the shops so it’s something you have to forage for yourself and it’s quite different to commercially grown garlic. Its flavour is far less pungent and it doesn’t form large bulbs, instead you can eat the leaves, stem and flowers; the whole plant is edible. Think of it more like a very tasty green vegetable than just a flavouring. The flowers look gorgeous as a garnish on risottos, pasta and pretty much any savoury dish!
Asparagus is a green vegetable with slender spears. It has a lovely earthy flavour perfect for salads and various dishes. The English asparagus season is short – it runs from May to late June which is the best time to enjoy it in Britain; at other times of the year, it is imported and never as fresh.
Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables. It’s not only rich in folate, potassium, vitamins A, K and C but it also has cancer-fighting and diuretic properties. So if you’re looking to lose weight (as it’s low calorie), lower your blood pressure and looking to get (and stay) pregnant, this vegetable is your friend.
So far, I’ve had green, purple and white asparagus in Britain and all were locally grown. When in season we often ‘pick our own’ asparagus from the local farm shop where it’s grown.
Also, I am a sucker for broccoli. I never really understood it growing up in India as I hardly ever saw it in the local farmer’s market. It’s not local to India but in the consumerist world we live in today, one can easily find broccoli on supermarket shelves there nowadays. It has become one of my favourite locally grown vegetables and as it’s available in abundance in the UK, I tend to add it to most of my European dishes. It does lift the flavour of the dish and the key is not to overcook it., I like to steam it, then roast it in the oven with some olive oil. This gives a nice crispy texture and brings out its nutty flavour whilst still keeping it al dente.
A few FAQs about this recipe:
Q: How to pick asparagus? A: You’ll usually find asparagus in your local supermarket or farmer’s market. Pick spears which are firm and green throughout the length of the stalk. I often find the chunky in-season English asparagus is lovely and firm as well as tasty. The spears can have a woody purple base. Stay away from floppy, soggy and rotten asparagus which will smell bad and won’t taste nice. Q: How to prepare asparagus for this dish? A: First always trim the woody, white chewy base off. Wash the spears thoroughly before cooking. Often the spears are gritty, so I usually hold them under a running tap for a minute to remove the grit with pressure washing. Then immerse them in a big wide bowl filled with water and gently shake the tips to remove the hidden grit. Once cleaned, chop them into 3cm long pieces for this dish. Q: Where can I find wild garlic? A: Wild garlic is usually found in shaded, damp wooded areas in Europe. It emanates a characteristic pungent garlicky smell that you may sense before you see it. If you can’t find wild garlic then swap it with a little crushed garlic. You can also add a bit of baby spinach to this dish in lieu of wild garlic leaves. If you do find a wild garlic patch try picking the tenderest leaves found underneath the bunch, using a sharp knife to cut at the base of the stalk. Q: Can I use arborio rice if I can’t find carnaroli? A: Of course. Arborio rice is the second best option for this dish. Q: Where can I find carnaroli rice? A: In the UK it is available in many of the larger supermarkets as well as Italian grocery shops. Q: How should I cook wild garlic? A: First I inspect the foraged wild garlic carefully to get rid of any bugs and debris, wiping each leaf with kitchen paper. Then I thoroughly wash it in a colander under a cold running tap. Wild garlic can be wilted by sauteing in butter for a couple of minutes. In this dish it’s simply added to the risotto part way through cooking so that it softens and infuses the whole dish with it’s wonderful flavour.
Asparagus And Wild Garlic RisottoCourse: MainCuisine: ItalianDifficulty: Medium
200g carnaroli rice
150g wild garlic leaves washed and finely chopped
250g asparagus washed and chopped into 3cm pieces
800ml veg/chicken stock (homemade or shop-bought)
150g broccoli chopped (optional)
A handful of wild garlic flowers
1 medium onion finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
a few sprigs of lemon thyme
1 tbsp olive oil for frying
150ml white wine (optional)
50g of vegetarian parmesan grated plus extra to serve
2 tbsp butter
Salt to taste.
- Fry the onion and garlic together to a soffritto (soft but not coloured) in a wide deep pan with a lid over a low to medium flame.
- Meanwhile, bring the stock to a gentle simmer in a separate pan.
- Now is a good time to prepare the broccoli. Steam it for 2 minutes to par cook and then drain. Toss with a little olive oil in a bowl, then spread on a flat baking tray and roast in the oven for 15 minutes at 180 C. Skip this step if not using broccoli.
- When the onion and garlic from step 1 are cooked, add the lemon thyme and rice to the soffritto. Stir for a couple of minutes until the rice has absorbed some of the oil. Then add the white wine, if using, and stir until fully absorbed by the rice.
- Start adding the stock a ladleful at a time, stirring and allowing the rice to absorb before adding the next ladle. Turn the heat down if the rice starts to stick to the pan. It takes 15-20 minutes to cook the rice and add all the stock.
- 10 minutes after you started adding the stock, add the finely chopped wild garlic and stir into the risotto.
- While the risotto continues to cook, sautée the asparagus in a little olive oil for 2-3 minutes in a separate frying pan. It should still be al dente and not stringy when done.
- The finished risotto should be fairly runny, not stodgy. When you are satisfied that the rice is cooked and the consistency is correct (add more stock if it’s too sticky) turn off the heat. Stir in the asparagus and broccoli. Then, add the butter and parmesan. Stir gently, season with salt, and then cover with a lid and leave to rest for 2-3 minutes.
- Serve immediately with a few extra parmesan shavings and wild garlic flowers.
- Risotto is best eaten immediately. It becomes stodgy if left even for an extra 10 minutes. So it pays to have everything organised ready to serve and the family ready to eat!
- The broccoli and asparagus are cooked separately in this recipe, rather than in the risotto itself so that you can get them just right, cooked but not too soft. This means you have to do a bit of multi-tasking to bring the whole dish together. Getting all the veg prepared before you start cooking makes things easier.
3 servings per container
- Amount Per ServingCalories507
- % Daily Value *
- Total Fat
- Saturated Fat 7.9g 40%
- Cholesterol 32mg 11%
- Sodium 1076mg 45%
- Potassium 382mg 11%
- Total Carbohydrate
- Dietary Fiber 8.2g 33%
- Sugars 4g
- Protein 18.4g 37%
* The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.