Cousin Garlic

I have no tal­ent for garden­ing, there’s no use pre­tend­ing. But I’ve developed an obses­sion with my garden. That’s because my friends Non and Helen have actu­ally planted some­thing in it for me.

Each morn­ing I check on my white ali­ums to see how fluffy and camp they’ve become. Here they were yes­ter­day, burst­ing to get out of their jack­ets, like plump guests at a sum­mer wedding.…

…here they were last night, hav­ing almost wriggled free.….

And good grief, look at them today.….

Like most of us, frothy, eth­er­ial ali­ums have some uncouth rel­at­ives. In the case of the alium, the wild cousin that gets drunk and behaves badly but gives every­one a won­der­ful time is the gar­lic plant. What would a party be without the high-living, fun-loving, wise-cracking Cousin Garlic?

Just like humans, the gar­lic plant gets tougher, dryer and bossier as it gets older. Young gar­lic how­ever is an alto­gether gentler creature. Del­ic­ate in fla­vour and sweet in aroma.

You can recog­nise it from its long stems and its juicier, plumper demean­our. Its name is wet gar­lic, but that just sounds revolt­ing. The word ‘wet’ should never be attached to food — wet cheese, wet bread, wet ham, wet lettuce are all dis­gust­ing. So let’s call it new gar­lic, because that’s what it is …

New Gar­lic Risotto

50g but­ter

2tbsp olive oil

I onion

3 cloves old gar­lic, crushed with the flat of a knife and then chopped finely

3 new gar­lic bulbs sliced thinly across, leaves and all

250g arborio rice

1 cup dry white wine

About a litre of veget­able stock — keep it sim­mer­ing in a pan so that you can keep adding it, hot, to your risotto

Hand­ful fresh spin­ach leaves

50g freshly grated parmesan

Hand­ful fresh chives and chive flowers

Melt 25g but­ter with the olive oil and add the old and new gar­lic and the onion. Cook gently so that they soften but don’t take on any col­our. Sea­son with salt and black pep­per and after about ten minutes add the white wine. Once it’s been absorbed, keep adding a ladle­ful of hot stock at a time. Turn the heat down so that the risotto merely bubbles like a murky pond and keep adding the stock. Stick with this pro­cess for about fif­teen minutes. Try to enter a trance-like state. Risotto and brisk, brittle effi­ciency don’t go together. When the rice is cooked, but only just, add the spin­ach leaves and stir through. It should be lux­uri­ously soupy. (The best risotto I’ve ever eaten was in Venice and I ate it with a spoon.) Add the remain­ing but­ter and the cheese.

Serve with a scat­ter­ing of finely chopped chives on top and the chive flowers. The chive is another rel­at­ive of the alium and the gar­lic, so it will be very happy to join the party.