A weekend stroll through Hendricks Park was filled with colorful blossoms, from demur
to flamboyant. All this flora inspired some outdoor cooking. My husband picked up a tri-tip steak to grill,
and we had some peppers, onions, and cherry tomatoes that I used for vegetable skewers. As an accompanying starch, I decided to prepare a barley risotto.
Barley is an underappreciated grain, often relegated to dowdy soups, but with its nutty taste and firm texture, it makes an outstanding risotto. I prepared a simple broth by soaking dried porcini mushrooms in hot water.
To start the risotto, I sauteed some chopped onion in butter and olive oil until glassy and then cooked the barley grains until they gave off a nice toasted fragrance.
Then I added the broth a little at a time, stirring frequently and simmered the grain with the chopped rehydrated mushrooms and some fresh marjoram and rosemary. After about 45 minutes the kernels had softened, but still maintained a firm bite. At this point, you could finish the dish off like a classic mushroom risotto, stirring in some sauteed mushrooms and plenty of grated parmesan cheese. Instead I used the mushroom-flavored barley as a bed for the grilled vegetable, which released their charred, caramelized sweetness into the grain. Enjoy with a glass of sangria.
Barley Risotto with Grilled Vegetables
serves 4 as a side dish
for the risotto
1 handful (~1/2 cup) dried porcini mushrooms
1 1/4 cup barley
~4 1/2 cups boiling water
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 small onion, diced
4 sprigs marjoram
2 sprigs rosemary
for the grilled vegetable skewers
1 1/2 small red onions
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
~24 cherry tomatoes
4 sprigs rosemary
salt and pepper
1. Rehydrate the porcini mushrooms in 4 cups of boiling water and let soak for at least 15 minutes. Strain and reserve the soaking liquid and chop the mushroom. Dice the onion. Remove the marjoram and rosemary leaves from the stems and mince.
2. Heat the butter and oil in a saucepan and saute the onion until glassy. Add the barley and saute until it gives off a distinctive toasted smell. Add a cup of the porcini broth, a generous sprinkling of salt, and the chopped mushrooms and stir. Adjust the heat so that the barley is at a slow simmer and stir in the fresh herbs. Let the barley cook for about 40 minutes, stirring often, and gradually adding all of the broth. If the barley is still too firm for your taste once the broth has been absorbed, keep adding small amounts of hot water until it is just soft enough, but do not overcook. Add salt to taste.
3. While the barley is cooking, wash the vegetables for the skewers. Cut the onions into wedges and chop the peppers into chunks. Assemble the skewers, using onion wedges to anchor the ends and alternating between pepper slices and cherry tomatoes in the middle. Drizzle the skewers with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary. Grill the skewers over low to medium heat, flipping halfway through. Grill until the vegetables are cooked and somewhat charred.
4. Serve a mound of barley risotto topped with a skewer's worth of grilled vegetables.