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.
Serving Tip: Let the risotto cool down just a little bit before serving. If too hot, you won’t taste the first 3 or 4 bites until it does cool down. I found the leftovers the next day tasted better than the night before.