There are secret corners in my garden where wild seasonal herbs await promptly for me. They may sometimes come out too early but they always grow back. I only need to remember them and wait. It’s a small secret shared among my family that has been handed down by my maternal grandfather, number one in the knowledge of spring’s wild crops.
The chirp of a little bird flying on the pear tree ready to blossom, reminds me of a hidden corner in my garden. We don’t usually walk on there, near the edges, therefore it’s a little scruffy, and ideal for the shoots of plants to grow undisturbed. They remain hidden during the winter and then, like springtime that takes you back, you remember them: i bruscandoli!…as they are known here in the Veneto Region although they are well known almost everywhere in the North of Italy.
They are the shoots of the hop, the plant for the beer making. That’s right! You can spot them only if you know what they look like. They come out with their little green buds and are very similar to miniature asparagus. You can notice them because they grow tall and straight compare with the other nearby wild plants. The bruscandoli are always hidden. They grow in dry, shady places, under the protection of the bramble. I must be careful of other stingy intruders as well as the brambles, the roses stems, the net and the hedgerow, but as soon as my eyes spot them, it’s easy then to pick a good bunch.
I put them in a sieve or in a little bunch and wrap them with some paper so that they won’t wither. They are young and tender. My harvest has been lucky and the thought of a lovely green risotto or an omelette that brings out the yellow, makes me happy.
My boots are a bit muddy but, afterall, going on “secret expeditions” like this one is like going hunting for something rare in unexplored lands. Stepping into the secret corner in my garden I feel like the little girl going into the wood hearing in her mind the warm voice of her grandfather telling her “Look well and you will find them”. The harvest has been generous and, on the way back, the afternoon light awakes the pleasure of the cooking. Fresh wild shoots ready for a healthy evening meal scented with all the flowers I’ve smelled and the grass I’ve walked on.
My old kitchen table has become brighter with colours. The green of the risotto awakes every shade of greens that I know, even the good olive oil and the perfumed garlic seem brighter. The pleasure of a silent and lonely harvest gets transformed by the company of good food. The secret corner in my garden is where the shyness of the wild herbs allows it to be picked and transformed in a merry and simple abundance.
- 350g risotto rice (such as carnaroli)
- 1 small bunch of bruscandoli
- 2 cloves of red garlic
- 500ml [1pint] vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 knob of butter
- freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt & Pepper
- Start by getting rid of the hard part of the shoots stalk, keeping only the tender leaves and all the heads. Wash them well and then roughly chop them.
- In a small pot heat the vegetable stock previously prepared.
- Heat the olive oil and sautè 2 cloves of red garlic, then add the bruscandoli. Put the lid on and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes, adding a little water so that they won’t dry up too much.
- Add the rice and leave it to toast for a few minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon.
- Add some of the hot vegetable stock to the rice and keep adding it with care and patience until the rice is cooked. This requires some time, depending on the quality of the rice chosen.
- The rice is cooked when the inner white part of the rice grain is not visible anymore.
- Turn off the heat, season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the butter and the Parmesan so to give the risotto a creamy texture.