Barley risotto with feta, mint, peas and green veg

by Christine Knight

Barley risotto with feta, mint and green veg

I recently discovered pearl barley through (what else?!) an Ottolenghi recipe (for barley and pomegranate salad, in Plenty). I’m still not quite sure what I think: it’s low on the Glycemic Index, which is great, but it can sometimes seem a bit heavy and indigestible. It’s far more interesting in both texture and looks than rice, however: the grains are larger and chewier, with tiny, decorative dark lines. All in all, give it a whirl if you haven’t already!

Serves 4

1 litre hot vegetable stock (I use Marigold stock powder)
1 brown onion, finely chopped
1 leek, white part only, quartered lengthways and finely sliced
1 stick celery, finely chopped
1 small courgette (zucchini), quartered lengthways and finely sliced
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed and drained
1 cup white wine
½ cup frozen peas (petits pois are best)
240g broccolini or tender-stem broccoli, trimmed
1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese (I use a substitute made with non-animal rennet)
⅓ cup fresh mint, finely shredded
⅓ cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
100g feta, broken into chunks
1 lemon, zest and juice
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Once all your ingredients are prepared, put the stock on to simmer in a saucepan over low heat. Heat a knob of butter and a lug of olive oil in a separate large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, leek and celery, and fry gently until softened but not coloured. Add the courgette and stir for a couple of minutes more.

Add the rinsed barley and stir until the grains are coated in the oil and butter. Turn up the heat to high and add the wine. Stir and let it bubble until nearly all the liquid is gone. Check the time at this point, and reduce the heat to medium. Now add your first ladle of stock, stirring over the heat with a wooden spoon until the stock is nearly all absorbed. Repeat this process, adding ladles of stock, until the barley is nearly cooked. For me this took 17 minutes from the time I started adding stock, but keep testing the barley between your teeth to check – it should still have some bite. You may not need quite all the stock – I used 900ml. (Be sure not to add too much stock all at once when the grains are nearly cooked, or you can wind up with excess liquid at the end.)

Towards the end of the cooking time, bring a large pan of water to the boil. When the barley is nearly cooked, drop the broccolini into the boiling water and cook for 3-4 minutes, until just tender. While the broccolini is cooking, add the peas to the risotto. Continue stirring for a minute, then turn off the heat under the risotto. Add most of the parmesan and fresh herbs, the lemon juice, plenty of ground pepper, salt (if you want it) and a good knob of butter. Stir well and put the lid on for the flavours to absorb while you drain the broccolini.

Once the broccolini is ready, spoon the risotto into large flat bowls to serve. Top each portion with some broccolini spears, chunks of feta, the reserved parmesan and fresh herbs, lemon zest, and finally a drizzle of olive oil and grinding of black pepper.

Serve with crusty bread and butter; a dark, seeded loaf would work well.