Risotto Reinvented

A heart-healthy substitute for traditional rice

Photography by Barney Taxel

Preparing risotto, an Italian classic made with Arborio or Carnaroli rice, wine and warm broth, requires a certain slavish devotion. As it cooks, the mixture must be stirred continuously during a 20-minute period. But replacing rice with barley sets you free. There’s no need for constant stirring because of differences in starch content between the two grains. In this recipe, the finished dish has a slightly chewier consistency than traditional risotto, but I think it holds its own when compared to the original.

This version also offers added health benefits. The latest research has shown that eating barley can help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of coronary artery disease and improve your HDL (good) cholesterol levels while reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Throw together a salad while the broth and barley bubble on the stove and you’ve got a homey yet elegant meal ready for the table.

(Serves 4)

2 pounds fresh fava beans

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

6 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated

2 cups pearled barley

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay)

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock plus 1 cup water, kept at a simmer in a saucepan

8 stalks asparagus, tough ends snapped and discarded, talks cut into 1-inch sections

1/2 cup frozen baby peas, thawed

3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

2 teaspoons fresh chopped mint

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup heavy cream

zest of 1 lemon

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

shavings of Pecorino Romano for garnish

1.   Fava beans are nestled in pods like peas. They must be shelled and blanched before use. Bring 4 cups of water to a simmer over medium-high heat and add the shelled beans. Simmer for 1 minute, drain and rinse beans under cold running water.

2.   To remove the rubbery husk covering the bean, pinch one end open and squeeze. The bright green fava will pop right out. You should have about 1-1/2 cups of beans. Set aside.

3.   Heat a wide-bottomed, 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil and the white part of the scallions and saute until soft, about 1 minute.

4.   Add the barley and salt and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Add wine, stirring until it’s completely absorbed.

5.   Turn the heat down to medium-low. Ladle 1/2 cup of simmering stock into the barley mixture, stirring constantly until the stock is absorbed, about 2 or 3 minutes. It isn’t necessary to stir constantly after this point. Add another 1/2 cup of the stock and continue to cook, adding stock in 1/2-cup increments when all the liquid has disappeared and stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes. The barley will still be tough.

6.   Add the asparagus and fava beans and continue to cook, adding hot stock by the 1/2 cup until the barley is tender and the vegetables are cooked, about another 7 to 10 minutes. If you run low on stock, use boiling water to finish.

7.   Add the scallion tops, peas, cheese, mint, butter, heavy cream and lemon zest. Stir to a creamy consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from the heat.

8.   To garnish, top each portion with cheese shavings or a sprinkling of freshly grated cheese. Serve immediately.

TIP:  To make the garnish, use a vegetable peeler to peel slices from a block of cheese.

Carla Snyder is chef de cuisine of the Western Reserve School of Cooking. “The Big Book of Appetizers,” her second cookbook co-authored with Meredith Deeds, is due out in the fall.

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