It might officially be summer now but you can still find some of the best spring produce at farmers’ markets. Rhubarb is still making a showy appearance from a few vendors at the Wooster Square Farmers Market (and needless to say I’m buying it up in bulk—more to come). Flowering bundles of scallion, fresh peas and their shoots, and even green spring garlic and scapes are still available.
I had every intention of planting garlic last fall—enough for a spring harvest of green garlic and a later one once they’re developed—but unfortunately I waited too long and the supplier was out of stock for the season. As usual though, I somehow neglected to pull up a plant form last year so I have a rogue garlic plant in the herb garden. Despite my burning urge to pull it up a few weeks ago, I convinced myself, and continue to still, to leave it in the ground so that it matures, and I can plant the cloves in the fall. This is one of those moments where I actually can exercise delaying gratification. Plus, I still get scapes.
Luckily for me, though, I happened upon some green garlic at the farmers market. You really can have your cake and eat it, too. Is that the lesson here? I don’t know. I don’t care. I have risotto. The world can’t get to me now.
Green garlic is to garlic as scallions are to onions; a gentler, but still flavorful counterpart. Garlic is grown by planting an individual clove in the ground, usually around fall. The clove sets roots and eventually sends a green shoot up above the dirt (if you’ve ever seen green sprouts poking out of your garlic from wrongfully storing them in the fridge, picture that, but underground). That sprout develops into a plant, and that single clove underground grows into a full head of garlic. When garlic is ready for harvest usually a few layers of leaves on the plant are dried and dead which, underground, becomes the papery skin around the garlic. Green garlic is a young garlic plant that hasn’t fully developed; the underground clove has grown into something that from the outside resembles a head of garlic, but still hasn’t developed individual cloves. A few inches up the plant, the stem is tender enough to be eaten and full of flavor. Even the leaves, though very fibrous, have a hint of allium to them. The real flavor is packed in the bulb and a few inches up the stem, where you get a clean garlic flavor—less sulfuric, less acrid and stinging—that’s more of a whisper than a shout.
Scapes are the corkscrew stems that come out of the center of the plant that eventually bloom into “flowers” (bulbils). As with the rest of the plant that grows above ground, as it matures it becomes tougher and tougher before reaching the point of being inedible. In the early stages, though, the stem itself is fantastic—garlic, herbaceous and vegetal. When they’re very young, having just developed, they can be treated like scallions or chives, used uncooked. As they mature and become more fibrous they need a little cooking to become tender again. More often than not, they end up sautéed in butter with mushrooms for pasta here (last year it was pappardelle with chanterelles from the Yale farmers market—wow).
For this risotto though I really wanted the verdant green garlic to be the star so I kept it simple. Normally with any risotto that I make I use vegetable or chicken stock, but weaken it with some water; something about the starches that the Arborio rice releases makes a risotto made solely out of stock taste and feel like gravy to me. This time I did something a little different, though. All the scraps from the green garlic—root, outer layer of the stem, leaves, tough bits from the scape, you name it—went into a pot of water and simmered, along with a Parmigiano rind, to make a very light broth. In addition to these scraps, I threw in some tough, woody ends of asparagus that I had stashed in the freezer (I don’t have the heart to throw them out). They’re too tough to eat, and frankly by the time they’ve simmered long enough for the fibers to break down the flesh is total mush. What better use way to use them up than make a broth from them? The taste of the asparagus doesn’t really shine through in the risotto, but rather gives it a light delicate taste that doesn’t get in the way of the ethereal green garlic flavor, without being as bland and boring as using straight water. Nothing gets wasted (fitting, seeing as green garlic are really scraps themselves; they were pulled up early as a way to thin out rows of garlic on farms). If you don’t have any asparagus ends though I wouldn’t worry about it too much—maybe throw in another cheese rind for good measure.
Alright, that’s enough. Time is running out, and you need to go get some green garlic before it’s too late. Once you do, all you need is another very lucky person to indulge and enjoy this green garlic risotto with you. Or don’t share. I didn’t.
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|About 1 hour (including making the broth)|
- 3 tablespoons butter divided
- A few drops olive oil (regular)
- 1 large green garlic/spring garlic with scapes, if possible
- 3/4 cups Arborio rice
- 1/3 cup dry white wine or extra dry white vermouth
- 3-1/2 cups cold water
- 6 ounces frozen asparagus bottoms (the woody parts trimmed off the spears) (see note)
- Approx. 1" x 2" Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
- A few flecks lemon zest
- Scant 1 t-spoon kosher salt
- 2 - 3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- fresh minced parsley to serve
- Trim the very bottom off the green garlic, and cut the stalk just below where the leaves start to protrude—in total the whole thing should measure about 8-10”, more or less. Peel apart all the leaves to expose the scape, and cut the bud from the stem. Peel off the first outer layer of the green garlic.
- Take the leaves, peeled outer layer, scape bud, and any other garlic scraps into a saucepan with the asparagus ends, Parmesan rind, and water. Place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Season with ½ t-spoon kosher salt, and keep it at a simmer for 30 minutes on medium/medium-low. After 30 minutes, strain through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth—you should have 3 cups left. Pour this back into a pot and put over low heat, covered, to stay warm.
- Separate the white bulbous bottom from the light green stalk of the green garlic; finely chop the bulb and thinly slice the green stalk. Use a vegetable peeler to peel thin strips of the scape before cutting them into slightly large bite-sized pieces.
- In a heavy-bottom pan, such as a Dutch oven, heat 2 ½ tablespoons of butter, a few drops of oil, and finely chopped green garlic bulb over medium-low heat until fragrant—about 5-7 minutes.
- Scatter the rice into the pan along with the sliced green garlic stalk—holding back a few paper-thin ones for serving—and peeled scape stem. Toss it in the butter until it’s slicked and glossy. Toss it around for another minute or two before pouring in the wine or vermouth. Stir it into the rice until it’s absorbed completely.
- Now, ladle by ladle, add the broth you whipped up earlier, stirring constantly, and letting the rice absorb all the liquid before adding any more. I usually stir each ladle until it’s mostly absorbed, then leave the rice to full absorb what’s left before adding more. In all, it should take about 20 – 22 minutes.
- Once the rice is tender and has absorbed the liquid, grate a few miniscule flicks of lemon zest into the rice, plop in the remaining ½ tablespoon of butter, and a bit of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, shut the heat off, and stir everything to combine.
- Scatter with a little parsley and serve up into warmed bowls immediately, garnishing with a some of the reserve green garlic stalks you thinly sliced.
- For the broth: the asparagus ends I have are fairly thick, and about 3" long. If yours are shorter, or thin, shorten the cooking time and reduce the amount of water by a few spoonfuls, more or less. The same goes for if you're using unfrozen ends, leftover from earlier in the week or something.
- If you're not using asparagus scraps in the broth, or don't have any, don't worry; throw another Parmigiano rind in the broth, or maybe some parsley stems.