Last Updated on May 31, 2021
In London, the pursuit of wild garlic is a somewhat frenetic affair, fueled by a wealth of recipes in the centrefold of every Sunday supplement which appear as predictably as the garlic itself at the start of the season. Many of us end up buying expensive bundles from farmers’ markets or from some of the posher supermarkets. A few have their own secret and closely guarded wild garlic foraging spots. Travel to Cornwall as I’ve done for a few days recently and you’ll find it growing everywhere. Patches of bluebell woods are punctuated by the starry white flowers and every hedgerow seems to have a lacy white border. I had no intention of writing another wild garlic recipe but, with so much of nature’s larder on offer, it seems churlish to pass up the opportunity to make Wild Garlic Risotto.
Boscastle, on the North Cornish Coast, may not be as well known as neighbouring Port Isaac where Doc Martin is filmed, or as Padstow, known by the locals as Padstein for the influence of Rick Stein on the area. But, it’s right in the heart of the food centre of Cornwall.
You’ll find Nathan Outlaw, Paul Ainsworth and Rick Stein restaurants almost on your door. And, I suspect some of the excellent local produce has evolved to meet the needs of these illustrious chefs. I’ve spent a good part of this short break feasting on local charcuterie from Deli Farm in Delabole and a whole range of artisan cheeses. And, we’ve enjoyed a fabulous meal at St Enodoc Hotel on the terrace that was once home to Nathan Outlaw’s Grill until he set up shop in Port Isaac.
In Boscastle itself, you’ll find a stunning harbour owned by the National Trust and beautiful clifftop hikes that take you high enough above the village for the perfect view out to sea. Apart from that, there’s a well-known Witchcraft museum and, up the hill on the edge of the village, a great farm shop selling cheese, charcuterie from Deli Farm and more local produce.
And, along the steep paths up the hill inland, punctuated by pretty smugglers’ cottages, you’ll find wild garlic growing. It’s hard to miss and, at this time of year, cascades down the craggy ledges like a floral waterfall filling the air with a delicate but distinctive note of allium.
The pack of Deli Farm Cornish pancetta seemed an ideal partner for a fragrant wild garlic risotto laced with parmesan. But, if you were making this dish for a vegetarian or vegan, I’m sure it would be every bit as good with vegetarian cheese to replace the parmesan and perhaps with a little extra wild garlic as a garnish.
You don’t need so much wild garlic that your risotto turns green, particularly if, like me, you are using the pretty but pungent flowers as a garnish. And, although it’s not authentic at all, you may like to add a little double cream at the end instead of extra butter. But, that’s entirely up to you.
Other than that, a small onion, a glass of dry white wine or vermouth, some risotto rice (here arborio, though I normally pick carnaroli rice by preference). Stock, a good grating of parmesan and some butter or olive oil make up the rest of the ingredients for this frugal dish. I’ve generally made risotto with homemade chicken or fish stock but as I had nothing other than Marigold vegan bouillon, which I used as the base here. And, I suspect it was a better, lighter option for this very fragrant and delicate dish.
I started by prepping the pancetta, frying it in its own fat until it was crisp. It’s a good idea to do this ahead of starting to make the risotto so that it can cool and be crumbled up a bit. Pancetta makes a great topping for all sorts of risotto dishes – in the past, I’ve used it with spinach risotto and with an autumnal sage and butternut squash risotto.
How you make the risotto is partly up to your own taste. You’ll need a pot of hot stock of your choice set to one side. I start by heating butter in a pan till it is melted and warm. Some people prefer to use olive oil, but I love the buttery flavour of the ‘real thing’. If I’m using onion or shallot, I add it at this point and soften it for at least 5 minutes – so that it’s translucent but not browned at all. Then I stir through the rice and cook for another 2 minutes or so.
Turn the heat up a bit and add the wine, which should make the mixture sizzle. Keep stirring until most of the liquid has evaporated. Then add in a ladleful of hot stock and stir again. I cook risotto on a medium simmer (e.g. if you are not stirring, the mixture is bubbling!) and it’s important to try and keep the stock hot too so that as you add it, the risotto doesn’t come off the boil. Add stock by the ladleful, stirring the whole time and waiting till each ladleful is absorbed before adding more. I’ve discovered that although everyone tells you not to stop stirring, you really can take enough of a break to pour yourself a glass of wine. Once you’ve added most of the stock, start to taste the rice. How much stock you add will depend on your personal taste, on the type of rice you use and on how you cook it. I aim for tender rice with just a bit of a bite. Soft ingredients that need warming through rather than cooking, like chopped wild garlic, can be added at this point. I also add finely grated parmesan and some butter or cream. Beat the mixture furiously until you have a creamy risotto, then, if possible set to one side and rest for a couple of minutes before serving.
Put the risotto into bowls and serve with a garnish of crisp pancetta and wild garlic flowers. You can easily make this into a vegan or vegetarian risotto. Use olive oil throughout instead of butter and make sure you use a vegan or vegetarian hard cheese. I’ve recently made a vegetarian asparagus and wild garlic risotto, using exactly the same recipe, but adding asparagus tips into the risotto about 5 minutes before it was ready to serve so that they cook to a perfect al-dente. It was every bit as delicious – with textural interest from the asparagus replacing the crispy pancetta.
Finally, if you can’t get hold of wild garlic, this recipe would also work well with baby spinach or with wild rocket.
Here’s a printable version of the recipe
Wild Garlic Risotto with Crispy Pancetta
- 50 g pancetta slices for a vegetarian option, replace the pancetta with 6 asparagus tips
- 200 g risotto rice
- 800 ml stock I used Marigold vegan stock
- 125 ml dry white wine
- 40 g butter or 20g butter and 1 tablespoon of double cream
- 1 small onion or banana shallot finely chopped
- 1 handful wild garlic leaves finely chopped
- 2 wild garlic flowers
- 30 g Parmesan finely grated
- salt and pepper to taste
- Dry fry the pancetta, turning it once, till it is crispy.
- Heat the stock to boiling point and keep warm
- Melt 20g of butter in a pan over a low-medium heat
- Add the finely chopped onion and cook for 5-8 minutes till soft and translucent
- Add the rice and cook for a further 2 minutes, stirring constantly
- Add the wine, turn the heat up a little and cook till the wine has been absorbed by the rice, stirring constantly
- Add a ladle of the stock and continue to stir till the stock is absorbed. The risotto should be cooked over a low to medium heat, so that it is just simmering.
- Add the stock little by little until most of it has been absorbed by the rice. Keep stirring throughout this process, making sure the rice doesn't stick. If you are making the vegetarian option, then add the asparagus tips towards the end of cooking. Alternatively, you can steam them for a minute or so in a little water in the microwave.
- When the rice starts to look as if it is cooked, take a grain or two in a teaspoon and taste to check. You want to make sure there's still a little bite in the rice.
- Once the rice is ready, stir through the chopped garlic and remaining butter or cream together with the parmesan. Beat well for a minute or so (if you are using asparagus tips, you may wish to lift them out of the risotto at this stage).
- Taste and season your risotto, It's worth leaving the seasoning till the end as the process of reducing the stock into the rice will concentrate it, while the parmesan itself adds a salty taste making it easy to over season.
- Serve in bowls, garnished with crumbled pancetta or asparagus tips and a wild garlic flower
Looking for a different way to use up your wild garlic? Here’s our recipe for Salmon Linguine with wild garlic pesto (comes with a useful recipe for the pesto too!).
We’ve also got a light, summery pea and parmesan risotto if you want to try something different.