Monday, December 20, 2010

Barley Risotto with Beans and Greens

This recipe is from Smitten Kitchen. It takes a little while to make, because the broth needs to reduce and be absorbed by the barley, but it is simple to make and well worth it. It’s also quite a versatile recipe, as many of the ingredients can be substituted for others or omitted entirely. I used leftover arugula and spinach instead of escarole and didn’t bother with the wine. The blogger from Smitten Kitchen explained it in more detail, so I’ll reproduce her foreword (in italics). The Engineer and I both loved this recipe, as it’s hearty, healthy and delicious. This makes about 4 servings.

Be sure to use a low or no sodium broth; as the broth reduces and concentrates in flavor, a regular broth will yield a too-salty dish. I’ve learned the hard way many times! Only have a full salt broth or bouillon around? Swap some of the volume with water. And do play around with this dish — try different broths, such as beef or mushroom. Skip the beans, swap a cooked vegetable. Use your favorite greens and adjust the cooking time accordingly. Add a clove of garlic, use shallots or leeks instead of onion. Use romano instead of parmesan, dollop in some crème fraîche at the end; use red wine or skip the wine. I know it can sometimes be overwhelming to have too many options but the possibilities here are really endless, and a little extra tinkering could make a staple out of this dish for you.

5 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
¼ tsp thyme
½ cup white wine (optional)
1 cup pearled barley
1 cup beans, canned or precooked, rinsed
3 cups chopped escarole or spinach
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened (or margarine)
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to low and keep warm.

In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and thyme and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Add the barley and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine if using and cook, stirring until absorbed, about one minute. Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook, stirring, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding the stock ½ cup at a time in six additions — you’ll have a cup of stock left in the pot — stirring until it is nearly absorbed between additions. Most barley risottos are done when the barley is al dente and suspended in a thick, creamy sauce, about 35 minutes; however, you can make this one a little “soupier”, adding another half to one cup of stock. (This gives the beans something to drink up, and you have a margin of error if your grains continue to absorb the stock once you think they are done.)

Stir it in until the risotto is on the loose side, then add the beans and let them cook for a minute. Add the escarole and let it wilt and then cook for an additional minute. Stir in the ½ cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano and the butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve at once, passing more cheese at the table.

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