Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Toasted barley risotto with spinach and herb purée

My friend Gill gives the best presents. For Christmas this year I got a year's subscription to Bon Appétit. And, through the magic of the internet, the latest issue found its way not just to my letterbox in Australia, but onto my iPad here in Denmark. I don't know whether it was overconsumption of kanelsnurre (can there be such a thing?), or the sight of all the green in the markets and on the trees, or that I'd just had the most incredible dish featuring barley (with roasted Jerusalem artichokes and pickled onions) at a local restaurant here, but when I saw this recipe, I headed straight out to get the ingredients.

As an alternative to rice in risotto, barley is a revelation. As much as I love risotto, the heaviness of it is inescapable. I've no idea whether this is true or not - and no interest in my homegrown theory being disproven - but barley feels like it's good for you. It's brown for a start, nicely chewy and has a lovely natural nuttiness. The risotto technique suits it well, the lightly-toasted grains fed slowly with stock til they are plump and bursting with the fresh flavour of the herbs and spinach, bright with lemon, and rich with butter and cheese... and it still feels like it's good for you. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Like barley to your ribs.

Toasted barley risotto with spinach and herb purée
Adapted from the April 2014 issue of Bon Appétit 

As I'm only here another couple of weeks, I didn't buy a whole jar of bay leaves to get just one, so left it out to no ill-effect. But when I make it again (and believe me I'll be doing that) I'll definitely include it.

1 cup pearled, hulled, or hull-less barley
8 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
kosher salt (I used Maldon) and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 bay leaf (optional)
1/2 bunch spinach, thick stems removed (about 2 cups)
1/2 bunch parsley, thick stems removed (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely grated
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup finely grated Parmesan
1/3 cup chopped tender herbs (such as tarragon or chives)

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Toast barley on a rimmed baking sheet til light golden brown and fragrant, 8-10 minutes. Set aside.

Bring stock to a low boil in a large saucepan; reduce heat to low and keep stock warm.

Heat one tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, til softened and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add barley, thyme, bay leaf, and 2 cups warm stock to skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, til stock is almost absorbed, about 5 minutes. Add remaining stock by 1/2 cupfuls, allowing it to be absorbed before adding more and stirring often, til barley is tender and mixture is creamy, 40-50 minutes (you may not use all the stock). Remove bay leaf.

Meanwhile, cook spinach and parsley in a large pot of boiling salted water til leaves are bright green and just wilted, about 5 seconds. Drain; transfer to a bowl of ice water and let cool. Drain and squeeze well to remove excess water.

Coarsely chop spinach and parsley, then purée with oil and a splash of water in a blender, adding more water as needed, til smooth. Set spinach purée aside.

Mix garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice into barley mixture, then mix in Parmesan 1/4 cupful at a time, stirring til melted and well combined before adding more. Mix in remaining 2 tablespoons butter.

Remove barley risotto from heat and mix in spinach purée and herbs; season with salt and pepper.


  1. Wow Alice, this looks like the perfect autumn food. Missing you and your wonderful food down in Oz.

  2. Awww shucks! So happy the subscription is finding its way to you in Denmark. Oh I love the internet!