Sunday 9 June 2013

Barley risotto

Barley 'risotto' with lemon and herbs. peas and broad beans, served with chargrilled chicken and courgette.

A very British grain. We use it to make bitter. In fact, beer *may* simply be a corruption of the Old English world for barley: 'bære' which itself can be traced back to Proto Indo European - the ancient language spoken by the people of Anatolia, about 15,000 years ago who went on to occupy Europe, Iran and Northern India. I love etymology.

Of course, I didn't make beer this weekend, I made barley risotto. This is a nonsensical term because, as I'm sure you know, risotto is derived from Italian 'Ris' meaning rice (duh!). I could call it a 'pottage' but that would't be strictly correct either. Most people know what I mean when I call it a risotto whereas pottage could be confued with poultice and we'd all start rubbing it into peasants' buboes or something.


Some barley, in case you were wondering
Barley risotto with lemon and mixed herbs - feeds at least six
The real benefit of barley is it is far more forgiving than a rice risotto. No need to add careful ladles of stock and stand stirring for an hour. It will also reheat without any mushiness. In fact, I think it's better after twenty fours hours. 

Take some chicken or vegetable stock. (Don't use a stock cube! Make your own. This dish is basically grain and stock so guess how it'll taste if the stock is made from concentrated pellets of industrially derived chemicals and salt?) I was mainly feeding vegetarians this weekend so I plumped for the latter. You'll need around three litres for this recipe.

Finely chop three echalion shallots and sweat in butter over a gentle heat for ten minutes or so. You want softness but no colour. You can use onions instead but shallots are sweeter. Add 500g of barley and gently fry for a few minutes. Deglaze the pan with a big glass of fruity white wine. Reduce to almost nothing. Add a litre of the warm stock. Simmer very gently. When that stock is absorbed add another litre... and more if needed (probably). This will all take the best part of 50 minutes. Don't be scared of adding more liquid. How bite-y you want your grains is up to you - cook for another ten minutes if you like them softer - no one will arrest you. The dish should be wet but not like a stew.

Into the grains I now add about 50g of butter, the same of grated parmesan and a fistful of chopped mixed herbs (mint, lemon thyme, parsley were mine). Now add 200g each of blanched (dunked in boiling water for 90 seconds - then refreshed in ice water) broad beans and peas. Stir through to warm the beans and peas. Just before serving, add the zest of half a lemon and the juice of a whole lemon* (I hate using this direction because lemons vary so much. You'll get double the juice from one to another and some are much more sour than others). I also added a drizzle of pomegranate molasses but that was probably because I went a bit pomegranate-molasses-mad this weekend. Taste and season for salt and acidity. 

I serve this in bowls with pan fried bass, chicken or fennel fritters, garnished with fennel fronds and a little tarragon oil. I also add flamed baby toms for acidity and colour. Heat up a little olive oil until smoking then pile in some tomato halves, splash them around until the oil vapours catch alight. Toss the toms in the flaming oil until they are just singed. It looks dramatic but there's not enough oil to be a problem (FLWs).

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