This dish is really, really good. I totally LOVED it! Although I am using barley in lieu of arborio rice, this grain has plenty of starch that will give you the same creamy result as the rice version. Enjoy as a vegetarian main or as a delicious side. Add any vegetable combination you like. I think it would be really good with re-hydrated porcini mushrooms and peas. Toasting the barley gives the dish a nutty flavor and keeps it from getting mushy when cooking. Unlike regular risotto, this rewarms beautifully. If you want to make it ahead, I think it best not to add the blanched asparagus to the barley until you’re ready to serve. Adding just before serving will keep it bright green and appetizing.
When cooking risotto, it is difficult to give an exact liquid measure. You must watch it closely and stir if often. When you notice that most of the cooking liquid has been absorbed, add more. When you get close to 45 minutes of cooking time, taste it before adding more liquid. It should be creamy and the barley should be tender yet slightly firm to bite. You may have to add additional liquid.
Another important note on risotto. When adding liquid to the pot, you’ll want to add hot liquid. You can have stock on the stove over low heat or zap in the microwave. Adding cold liquid would prolong cooking time.
Toasted Barley Risotto with Fennel and Asparagus
1/2 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 3/4″ pieces
1 cup barley
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped fennel, the bulb portion (about 1 medium bulb)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 14 oz. can petite diced tomatoes, with juice
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 cup chopped arugula or spinach
1/4 cup fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice, fresh or bottled
1) Cook the asparagus in a pot of boiling, salted water for about 3 minutes. Drain and immediately plunge the drained asparagus into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain well. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.
2) Put the stock into the microwave to heat or heat in a small pot on the stove. In a large cooking pot over medium heat add the barley and heat until lightly toasted stirring often. About 5-7 minutes. Transfer barley to a bowl and return the pot to the stove. Add the butter and melt. Add the onion, fennel and garlic, cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the barley to the pot, stir to coat.
3) Add 2 cups of the stock to the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 7 minutes. Add the rest of the stock to the pot. Continue to stir often. When most of the liquid is absorbed, add the canned tomatoes with the juice. Allow the tomato juices to be absorbed. Taste to check the doneness of the barley. It should be creamy and the barley should be tender but still be a little chewy. If you feel it’s too chewy, add a little more liquid and allow this liquid to absorb and taste again. Once it’s to the right texture, add the parmesan cheese, arugula (or spinach) and parsley. Stir until the arugula is wilted. Taste. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the asparagus and the lemon juice. Serve with additional parmesan cheese. Makes 4 servings.