A Simple Barley Risotto with Tomatoes and Basil
When you think of risotto, you more than likely think of an Italian dish prepared with Arborio rice, a high-starch, short grain white rice popular when making this dish.
Because arborio rice easily absorbs liquids and release its starches, you end up with a creamy dish flavored with the other ingredients you are adding to it.
There are several other varieties of rice used for making risotto but for whatever reason, are not as popular here in the United States. These include Carnaroli, Padano, Maratelli, Baldo and Roma. I have found Carnaroli in gourmet markets but didn’t even know to look for the others but will now.
Recently, I’ve been seeing restaurants substituting Arborio rice with barley, a grain that’s a member of the grass family which also includes rices. I have no idea why they are substituting barley for rice but I like it. Is barley more healthy than rice? No idea!!
This recipe for barley risotto with tomatoes and basil was prepared by my 17 year old daughter over the weekend using ingredients from Blue Apron, a company that sends “fresh ingredients, great recipes” directly to your home. I helped with some prep but she prepared and put the meal together.
Let’s Talk Ingredients
The package came with fresh Romano beans, a giant looking snap bean that’s popular in Italian cuisine. If you can’t find them in your local market, try substituting fresh flat snap beans.
The recipe calls for using water to cook the barley but next time I’ll try vegetable stock or even chicken stock to give it some additional flavor.
Either way, I like to heat up the liquid to a simmer so I’m not adding a cold liquid to a hot pan requiring the pan to heat up again.
The barley used is pearl barley which is a barley that has been processed to remove its hull and bran. You can easily find it in most supermarkets.
The Blue Apron recipe included 1/4 teaspoon of ground fennel seeds which my daughter refused to use. She said she didn’t like it and would not add it so it’s up to you to decide to use it or not.
Barley Risotto Recipe
- 1 tablespoon oil canola, olive, or vegetable
- 5 cloves garlic peeled and finely minced
- 2 fennel bulbs cut into small dice
- 2 medium yellow onions diced
- 2 cups pearled barley
- salt & pepper to taste
- ½ pound Romano beans or snap beans cleaned and cut into ½ inch pieces
- ½ pound cherry tomatoes cleaned and cut in half
- 1 bunch fresh basil
- 1 drizzle olive oil extra virgin
- balsamic vinegar optional
- 1 bunch fresh parsley
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese freshly grated
- Prep all the ingredients before you start including mincing the garlic, dicing the fennel & onion, and cutting the beans. Pick the parsley leaves from the stems and chop finely.
- Remove the basil leaves from the stems, reserving the leaves and tossing the stems. Grate the Parmesan cheese.
- Heat up whatever liquid you decide to use whether it is water, vegetable stock or chicken stock.
Preparing the Tomatoes & Basil
- Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and place in a bowl. Tear half the basil leaves into small pieces and add it to the tomatoes.
- Season with salt & pepper and then drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil. Stir to coat tomatoes and add a few drops of balsamic vinegar (optional) and again stir to coat.Let this sit while you get the risotto ready.
Preparing the Risotto
- Heat up a large fry pan or soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the oil and when that gets hot but not smoking, add the garlic, onion and fennel. Sauté for 5 -7 minutes until the onions are soft but not browned. Be sure to stir to prevent the vegetables from burning.
- Add the barley, season with salt & pepper and continue cooking for a couple of minutes until the barley is lightly toasted.
- Add the beans and 4 cups of heated water. Give the barley a good stir and continue cooking and stirring for 10 - 12 minutes or until half the water has been absorbed by the barley and the barley begins to soften.
- Add 4 more cups of heated water plus the remaining basil that you should tear into pieces before adding and continue cooking and stirring until most of the water has been absorbed. This should take about 15 minutes. The barley will be al dente at this point. Remove the pot from the heat.
- Finish the dish with the parsley, butter and Parmesan cheese, give a stir, taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- To plate, spoon some risotto into 4 serving bowls, top with the marinated tomatoes and basil and serve. I like to have some extra Parmesan cheese on the side for those who like to add a little more.