Risotto is a dish that adapts well to every season. Depending on what ingredients you use to flavour yours it can be light and delicate (Leek and Pea Risotto), or rich and decadent (Red Pepper and Goats Cheese Risotto). However, flavours are not the only way in which you can influence the seasonality of a dish. Though traditionally made with short, fat rice, it is possible to incorporate other grains or even pasta into a risotto. This recipe for Kale, Walnut and Lemon Pearl Barley Risotto runs with that idea, taking a step closer to winter perfection.
Pearl barley is a fantastically comforting cereal grain, with a pleasantly dense texture. It is generally used as a thickener in stew and is a particularly effective bulker. These qualities translate perfectly to risotto, giving each bite a similar yet meatier consistency than that afforded by rice. It is these characteristics that make pearl barley such a good replacement for rice, which is a little more delicate.
An impressively hardy brassica, kale is now coming into season and has increased vastly in popularity in recent years. Used in the right way – with very little cooking – kale can be every bit as delicious as Brussels sprouts or cabbage. Indeed, it is best stirred into stews or risotto right at the end of the cooking process as this preserves its crunchy texture and sweet flavour. However, if you’re looking for a slightly different way to use this vegetable, why not try using it as a base for pesto, using my Spinach, Feta and Walnut Pesto as a guide.
Kale, Walnut and Lemon Pearl Barley Risotto
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 300g pearl barley, rinsed
• 1.5 litres chicken stock
• 50g parmesan cheese
• 70g walnuts,broken
• 50g butter
• 4 handfuls of sliced fresh kale, green or purple
• the juice of half a lemon
1. Gently fry your onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Stir through your rinsed pearl barley and cook for 2 minutes. Toast your walnuts until browned.
2. Add the chicken stock one ladle-full at a time, waiting for each to be incorporated before adding the next. Once the barley is plump and cooked through stop adding the stock and remove the risotto from the heat.
3. Stir the cheese, butter and walnuts through your cooked risotto, pop the lid on and set aside to sit for 3-4 minutes.
4. Finally, stir through the kale, season to taste and drizzle with fresh lemon juice before serving.
Cost: Pearl barley is a relatively cost-effective ingredient and should set you back less than £1/500g. Kale is in season at the moment and should be really crisp and fresh – a large bag should also cost no more than £1. As such, this meal for four can be produced for around £2.50.