Our bean and grain CSA from Lonesome Whistle Farm included this remarkable purple barley. Last summer I had made a nutty barely risotto with grilled vegetables, but for a cozy winter dish I wanted something richer and creamier. I also had on hand some dandelion greens from our Open Oak Farm CSA. A little internet searching came up with a food52 recipe for ricotta risotto with dandelion greens and orange, which I adapted for barley. I also substituted lemon for the orange, which seemed to me a heftier pairing for the heartier grain.
Barley needs a lot longer to cook than arborio rice. You can shorten the time a little by soaking it overnight, but then you miss out on the opportunity to toast your grain in some fat before you simmer it. Instead I think the best strategy is to plan a leisurely weekend afternoon of cooking, bringing your barley just short of tender, and then reheat it and finish it off before dinner. This risotto doesn't require your undivided attention like a classic rice risotto, occasional stirring will suffice. And the lengthy cooking time allows you to concurrently simmer a stock seasoned with the leek greens and dandelion stems. When the barley is finally soft to your liking, finish it off with creamy ricotta and a zing of lemon zest. The final dish is both indulgent and healthy, a good transition from holiday feasting to New Year's resolutions.
Creamy Purple Barley Risotto with Dandelion Greens
inspired by gingerroot
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 bunch dandelion greens (or substitute another green)
1 medium or 2 small leeks
1 clove garlic
1 cup hulled barley
1/3 cup white vermouth
~4 cups stock or water
salt to taste
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta
zest from one lemon
1. To make a quick vegetable stock, or enhance one you have, set a pot of about 6 cups water or a combination of water and stock to simmer. Remove the stems and spines from the dandelion greens and the green parts from the leeks, wash and chop coarsely. Add to the simmering pot. You can add other items from your vegetable bin such as parsley stems, celery, or a carrot. Season with salt to taste. You can keep the stock simmering on very low while you cook the risotto, and it will continue to intensify in flavor.
2. Chop the dandelion green leaves. Peel and mince the garlic clove. Heat a large saute pan or Dutch oven big enough to hold the cooked risotto. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil and saute the minced garlic for a minute. Add the dandelion greens and a pinch of salt and saute until they just start to wilt, about 2 minutes. Remove to a bowl and reserve.
3. Rinse and finely dice the white and pale green part of the leeks. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter to the warm pan and saute the diced leeks until they are very soft and have started to caramelize, for about 6 minutes, but avoid browning them.
4. Add the barley and toast in the fat for a couple of minutes until it is fragrant and glistening. Add the white vermouth and allow to cook down. Now start adding the warm stock, a ladle at a time, and stir. You don't need to stir this as continuously as you would a rice risotto, but keep and eye on it, and taste periodically for texture and seasoning. I found that the barley needed about 90 minutes to reach the soft, creamy consistency I wanted. You could plan to cook it partially earlier in the day and finish it off just before dinner time.
5. When the barley is soft but still has some bite, stir in the sauteed dandelion greens and cook for a couple of minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the ricotta cheese and lemon zest. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.
Other recipes for locally grown grains