Saturday, January 7, 2012

Barley Risotto

It's 61 degrees right now. Absolutely gorgeous out. I spent the morning outside, walking to the post office to pick up a much-awaited package, getting pumpkin muffins from my favorite local bakery, enjoying a rich cup of coffee.

Today is the day to be outside, to enjoy the spring day that's been given to us as a special treat. It's a day to visit the farmers' market and pick through the vegetables without freezing your hands.

It's not really a day to make barley risotto, although if you made it, you wouldn't complain. Barley risotto is perfect for those cold winter nights when wind whips at your windows and you want nothing more than to be curled up on the couch with your down comforter. It's for those nights when you're tired of soup.

This risotto has got a little more bite and texture to it than its arborio risotto cousin. It's a little healthier for you, with a bit more fiber than usual. The cheese is totally optional, and I've been omitting it lately, but it's certainly delicious, and it will make the risotto a bit creamier. The barley risotto on its own lacks the creaminess of arborio risotto, but I find that a welcome change. It's hard to eat risotto five day sin a row as leftovers, but when it's barley, you can get away with it.

And, best of all, pearled barley is cheap. The grocery store around the corner sells a bag for $1.19. That makes about 10 servings of risotto.

Barley Risotto
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

This recipe will serve 4 to 5.

1 cup pearled barley
8 cups vegetable broth
4 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, minced
1/2 cup white wine, optional
1 can white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 small head escarole, trimmed into 1/2-inch pieces and washed thoroughly
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated, and more for topping risotto
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, heat 8 cups vegetable broth and bring to a low simmer.

At the same time, in a large saute pan, heat 4 tablespoons butter. Add 2 minced shallots and cook, stirring regularly until the shallots are softened. Add pearled barley and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the barley is lightly toasted.

OPTIONAL: Add 1/2 cup white wine to the barley, and stir until it is incorporated.

Add 1 cup vegetable broth, stirring the barley and broth until it is combined. Stir regularly until the broth is just cooked down. Add 1/2 cup vegetable broth, and stir until incorporated.

Continue adding 1/2 cup vegetable broth and stirring until the barley risotto reaches your desired consistency. I like it soft, but not so soft that it loses its crunch completely. This generally takes 30 to 40 minutes.

When the risotto reaches your desired consistency, add 1/2 vegetable broth, cannellini beans, escarole and grated parmesan. Stir carefully, and continue to cook 1 to 2 minutes until the mixture warms and the escarole wilts. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve hot, with additional grated parmesan on top. This risotto reheats beautifully.


  1. Katie, Your risotto looks delicious...would love to have some right now! So nice that it's made with barley. I would love to give this a try. Thanks for posting! Happy New Year!

  2. Thanks, Kathy! I just picked up more pearled barley at the store. I try to always keep the basic ingredients for this in my pantry.