Friday, July 9, 2010

Barley 'Risotto'

The weather in Chicago has been kind of crazy this summer. This week it's been oppressively hot (at least in my opinion), but a couple weeks ago it was raining daily and not feeling very summery at all. I made this dish during that time, and I will be the first to admit I would only serve it in this heat if it were a chilled version. But if you're having cooler weather in your part of the country, give this a try soon. And if you're in an area with crazy humidity and too many hot days in a row, then file this away for later. Trust me, you want to try this recipe.

Barley risotto is not something I made up, and if you look at food blogs very often then you've probably seen it numerous times already. But it sometimes takes me a while to catch on to these things, which is why I'm posting a 'risotto' in July! This recipe came from my desire to use some ingredients I already had in my kitchen-- specifically, spinach, artichokes, and barley. I guess the artichokes were in a can, so I could have left them for a while, but I can't resist the combination of spinach and artichokes.

I modeled my recipe off of one I found on Smitten Kitchen, but it's a pretty flexible recipe. The absorption cooking method is the same as with a rice-based version, and there is no end to the add-ins you could use. Add whatever veggies look good at the store, or brown some sausage and mix it in towards the end. Play around with the type of wine, or try a different type of stock. This recipe is a keeper either way!

Barley Risotto with Spinach and Artichoke Hearts
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted generously from Food and Wine

5 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
1 cup pearled barley (7 ounces)
3 cups chopped baby spinach
1 can quartered artichoke hearts, drained

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the vegetable stock to a simmer over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to low and keep warm.

In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and thyme and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Add the barley and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine if using and cook, stirring until absorbed, about one minute. Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook, stirring, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding the stock 1/2 cup at a time in six additions — you’ll have a cup of stock left in the pot — stirring until it is nearly absorbed between additions. Most barley risottos are done when the barley is al dente and suspended in a thick, creamy sauce, about 35 minutes. Stir it in until the risotto is on the loose side, then add the spinach and let it wilt and then cook for an additional minute. Add the artichokes and cook until they are warmed through, adding more stock if the risotto becomes too thick. Stir in the 1/2 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano and the butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve at once, passing more cheese at the table.

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