Making a ‘risotto’ with pearl barley is perhaps one of my favourite dishes. It’s lovely in every season and has a more interesting texture than risotto. Don’t get me wrong, I still adore risotto (Milanese or saffron risotto is my favourite) but a barley risotto is a more rustic version.
You make a barley risotto in the same way you would a normal risotto – softening some onions and maybe some garlic, stirring in the barley and adding stock. But this is where it differs: using risotto rice you would add a ladleful of hot stock at a time, stirring all the while, but with barley you can just bung in all the stock at once and leave it to simmer away.
So this is what I did. At this point, all you have is a pan of plain barley, softened onions and lots of stock. It depends on what vegetables you are adding to the dish as to when you add them.
For this one with its lettuce, pea tendrils, spring onions and peas, they are all quite delicate vegetables that don’t need a lot of cooking. So I added most of them in towards the end – the spring onions a little before the other veg so that they soften and lose some of their pungency – soft and sweet is what I want from spring onions in a dish like this.
Once all the stock has been absorbed by the barley – try it, it should still have a chewy bite to it – it’s ready to be eaten. I topped it with some chunks of ripe brie just for a bit of luxury. The heat of the risotto should start to melt the cheese and it begins to ooze and slide over the peas and between the barley grains.
This is ‘my recipe’ for it, sorry that there aren’t measurements or amounts. I use the same amount of pearl barley for two as I would for risotto – we use 3 oz per person. So for a meal for two, using 6 oz of pearl barley, I would cover it in about 500ml of hot vegetable stock – if you find it’s all been absorbed and the barley needs a bit more cooking, simply add a little more hot water until it’s done.