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.