I’M so happy at the emergence of so many new plants at the moment.
Nature has definitely decided it’s time to get cracking, and so we see the very first British asparagus spears appearing on the shelves, and last week I was surprised to see a photo online taken by a friend in a supermarket of punnets of extremely early English strawberries.
They did look a little under-developed, I must say.
I’ll be waiting until the middle of next month to start looking at the strawbs, personally.
Just because something can be picked, doesn’t necessarily mean it should be. Let’s let the fruit develop a little flavour before we fling it into a box and flog it.
Similarly, I’ve noticed that a couple of my wild-growing favourites are out in force right now.
One is a choice regular of mine, my most-liked foraged herb, wild garlic, often known as ramsons.
I love the long, elegant emerald green leaves with a delightful mild garlicky flavour, perfect for soups and sauces, and also magnificent wilted in a little butter either with some spinach or on its own, and tucked alongside some grilled fish, or perhaps even a nice juicily rare rib-eye steak.
The flowers, too, tiny white, delicate stellate blooms, are magical sprinkled over finished dishes, adding a little raw pungency to starchy dishes, or enlivening salads. Pick it while it lasts. It will be past its best by the end of May.
Another fleeting wonder is an equally garlicky wild plant, alliaria petiolata, or garlic mustard.
I prefer to call it by its rather charming country name of Jack-By-The-Hedge.
It is a mildly garlicky leaf, a bit like a nettle to look at, and can be found almost everywhere at this time of year.
It prefers grass verges and hedgerows, but can often be seen along pavements and bridleways.
The leaves are so wonderfully mild that they can be thrown straight into salads and on top of things as a lightly savoury grace-note.
The flavour disappears quickly when this plant is cooked, so leave it for garnish and flavour boosting, and let the wild garlic work its magic in cooked dishes.
So, this week, before we put our aprons on, we need to don the wellies and go do a bit of foraging.
350g risotto rice
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp butter
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
1 medium onion, very finely chopped
100ml dry white wine
A couple of large handfuls of wild garlic leaves, washed well
A few Jack-By-The-Hedge leaves, washed well
30g fresh Reggiano parmesan cheese, grated
Heat a wide, shallow saucepan or risotto pan. Gently heat the stock in another pan and keep warm.
Add 1 tbsp butter to the risotto pan, and then throw in the onion. Cook gently for about five minutes until the onion is soft but not coloured.
Raise the heat, tip in the rice, and stir for a couple of minutes until it is coated with the butter and starting to crackle and become translucent.
At this point, pour in the wine and stir in. Allow it to become totally absorbed by the rice. Next, add a ladleful of the hot stock and cook until it has been absorbed, stirring constantly. Add another ladleful and repeat.
Carry on adding stock and stirring until the liquid has thickened and the rice is just al dente. It should have a very slight nuttiness to the centre of each grain, but not too hard or chalky; just a bit of ‘bite’.
When the risotto is cooked, quickly chop and stir in the wild garlic, the Parmesan cheese and the rest of the butter. Season well, and rest for 4 minutes. Divide into four bowls and finish with a scattering of Jack-By-The-Hedge leaves.
Serve with a crisp salad, perhaps with a few bitter leaves in it, to offset the creamy richness of the cheese and butter.
To drink, a Sauvignon blanc or a nice Spanish white from Rueda would fit the bill nicely.