Aug 15, 2010

Barley Risotto with Beans and Greens

Barley Risotto with Beans and Greens!

It seems my theme this weekend has been sharing meals and recipes with you that I typically pass over simply because they look and appear too difficult to put together; especially when my time in the kitchen is sometimes limited! This time around I’m sharing a risotto meal. Risotto is typically made with a rice, such as arborio rice, but this recipe is unique in that it uses one of my new favorites: barley! Jor made us a barley salad a few weeks back and I was instantly a fan of the texture and hardiness that the barley brought to the dish. When I saw this risotto on one of my favorite week night meal resources, smitten kitchen, it made the list of dinners that I was going to make the following week! The barley is super healthy and then with the addition of the spinach leaves and white beans, you’ve got a complete nutritious meal in a bowl!

Now back to the idea that risotto is a challenge to put together. I can now confirm that this is false!! It’s almost like making soup and rice all at the same time. It’s like soup because everything is thrown in one pot (you know how I like my one pot wonder!) and then it’s like making rice because you will add the liquid in stages and allow the barley to soak up all the liquid at each stage. I wasn’t reading very carefully and Jordan caught me as I was holding the two cups of broth over the pot, ready to add it all at once! woops, that really could have been a disaster BUT once I figured out what I was really supposed to do, the meal came together smoothly, relatively quickly and with little work on my part!

I decided to spice up my bread that evening with some fresh basil, heirloom tomato and asiago cheese! It just went along with the fresh flavors of the risotto and topped off a delicious dinner!

Here’s what you’ll need to put together this fantastic risotto dish!


(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen. Makes enough for 2-3 dinner bowl portions.)

  • 1/2 of a medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup uncooked barley
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 can white beans, such as cannellini beans
  • 1-2 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • 1/4-1/2 cup parmesan and asiago cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Alright so now time to prove to you that risotto is not as difficult or as complex as restaurants make it out to be! To start, warm the chicken broth in a small sauce pan on medium low heat and let it sit off to the side. You’ll be using that in just a bit. In a much large pot, warm the oil and then add the onion and thyme. Let this saute for just a few minutes until the onion starts to get soft. At this point, stir in the barley and let it saute with the onions for about 2 minutes.

Barley, onions, thyme and olive oil left to saute.

If you are opting to use the white wine in this dish, now is the time to pour it in. Give everything a little stir and then allow the barley and onions to sit for a minute and absorb the wine. This will only take a few minutes. If you aren’t using the wine, you can go on and skip to the next step, which is adding just ONE cup of the chicken broth. Don’t be like me and attempt to add it all at once! Once the broth is added, stir everything and allow most of the liquid to be absorbed. Once you get down to the point where little liquid is left, add another 1/2 cup of the broth. You’re going to keep going with this process until you’ve added the last 1/2 cup of broth.

I now have to admit something. I was reading over the original directions so I made sure I didn’t forget anything crucial and I JUST NOW saw that it was suggested that you stir continuously once each 1/2 cup of broth was added. Well, I certainly don’t remember doing that because I left the barley to handle absorbing the broth on its own while I put together our bread! So, I can recommend that you give your risotto a bit more attention in between steps than I did. However, at the same time, mine came out fantastic, with no complaints, and I didn’t have to babysit the whole time! I don’t think it was just luck!

Like I said, in between adding the chicken broth in stages, I put together a nice side bread for us. I used a fresh baguette, cut it in half and then applied just a little bit of olive oil to each side. You could use any combination of ingredients but I decided on some fresh basil, wonderful heirloom tomatoes and a sprinkle of asiago cheese. I turned on the broiler and let them cook in the oven for about 3-5 minutes (until things got crunchy and the cheese melted).

French baguette with basil, heirloom tomatoes and asiago cheese toasted under the broiler.

Back to the risotto. Once you added all the broth and everything is absorbed you can add the beans and let those warm up for about 2-3 minutes. Stir in as much of the cheese as you want and then leave some for sprinkling on top when you are ready to serve. You want to wait until the very last minute to add in the spinach or if you add it too early you end up with clumps of wilted spinach: not very attractive! So when you are ready to plate, add the spinach and some salt and pepper to taste.

Barley risotto complete!

You’ve now just completed your not so scary barley risotto and I hope you found it to not be too big of a challenge. The end results are so delicious and in my case completely worth the risk of messing up our dinner! Thank goodness I didn’t though! You could also transform this risotto into just but anything you can imagine. You could add different vegetables or even shrimp if you were trying to put together a nice meal for friends but didn’t want to make a huge mess in your kitchen! No matter what the combination is, I always love the creaminess of any risotto dish and the rich flavors. The best part is, you are getting bold flavor without the weight of a heavy or gooey sauce. It’s all about using fresh flavors and not over doing ingredients that are already so wonderful on their own. So that’s two recipe challenges that I overcame this weekend! I’d say that is a Win, Win! For now, that’s barley risotto with beans and greens…in the shell of a nut!

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