Gill's Wild Garlic Polenta with Barbecued Asparagus

Gill's Wild Garlic Polenta with Barbecued Asparagus

You could actually forage for wild asparagus, if you liked. It’s relatively easy to spot and would transform this dish into a really, really wild plate of food.

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‘Things that grow together go together.’ It’s a lovely saying, and it’s true – although don’t take it too literally. It doesn’t mean these things have to grow side by side; it can be enough if they grow in the same season. Nettles, asparagus and wild garlic are all at their absolute best at roughly the same time and this dish is a testament to their affinity. You could actually forage for wild asparagus, if you liked. It’s relatively easy to spot and would transform this dish into a really, really wild plate of food.

Serves 4



A colander of freshly picked nettle tops
Sunflower oil, for frying
About 1 litre (35" oz) vegetable stock, plus extra to loosen if necessary
150g (5½oz) fine polenta
50g (1¾oz) hard sheep’s cheese or cheddar, grated
A knob of butter
4–5 wild garlic leaves, chopped; or 1 large garlic clove, grated or crushed to a paste
16 asparagus spears
Extra-virgin olive oil, for trickling
3–4 thyme sprigs, leaves picked (optional)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper



Start by preparing and frying the nettle tops. Rinse the nettles in plenty of cold water, then spin them dry.

Heat a small saucepan over a high heat. Add about 6–8cm of sunflower oil and, when it’s hot (about 160–170°C/320–338°F on a cooking thermometer), you can fry the nettles. Use a pair of tongs to lower the nettle heads in by the base of their stalks. Make sure all the leaves and stalk are submerged in the hot oil and let them fry for 15–20 seconds, or until the energetic bubbling settles down and they look darker and crispy. Lift them out and allow them to drain on some kitchen paper. Repeat with the remaining nettles, sprinkle them with a little flaky salt and set them aside.

Bring 750–800ml (26–28fl oz) of the stock up to a gentle simmer in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Pour in the polenta in a slow, steady stream, stirring well as you add it. It will thicken quite quickly, but will need gentle simmering for 6–8 minutes, until the grain is cooked properly. If it becomes too thick, add a splash more stock. Stir in the cheese, butter and chopped wild garlic and season well with salt and black pepper. Cover the polenta and keep it warm.

Snap the woody base from each asparagus spear, then place the tender asparagus on a plate. Trickle with the extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper, and thyme leaves (if using). Cook the asparagus over glowing embers (or in a ridged grill pan) for 2–3 minutes on each side, or as long as it takes to char the spears nicely. Remove them from the heat. To serve, check the consistency of the polenta. It’s more than likely it’s stiffened up and will need warming with some extra stock and a vigorous whisk to give it a nice, creamy, spoonable texture again. Once you’re happy, divide the polenta between four warm plates or bowls. Arrange the asparagus spears on top, then add a few fried nettles. Finish with a good trickling of extra-virgin olive oil and some salt and pepper.

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