Risotto has long gotten a bad rap, with a reputation for fussiness - that whole stand-over-the-pot-and-stir thing - that has never really been accurate. It's a much more easygoing (and even forgiving) thing to make than many people seem to think.
Still, I always appreciate seeing different takes on the classic Italian dish that promise to make it even more approachable, especially from other cultures. In his lovely new cookbook, "Fresh From Poland," Michal Korkosz includes a version that uses barley instead of short-grain rice, cider instead of wine, and soft goat cheese in addition to the requisite Parm. The vegetable of choice is asparagus, in season now, but when I didn't have any of those spears, I made it with cubed zucchini, and it was just as good.
The cider (if you have any) and goat cheese bring a tang to the dish that is positively refreshing. The biggest bonus: Instead of gradually infusing the barley with stock, you cook it on its own - unattended, and days in advance, if you'd like - then spend a mere 10 minutes finishing it for dinner.
It all adds up to a take on risotto I can get firmly behind.
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BARLEY RISOTTO WITH ASPARAGUS, CIDER AND GOAT CHEESE
Active: 20 minutes | Total: 40 minutes
4 to 6 servings
This Polish take on risotto - sometimes called kaszotto - uses pearl barley instead of short-grain rice. You cook barley in a saucepan (a day or two ahead if you like) and use it to prepare a fast, comforting, light dish in minutes. Use asparagus, as the recipe calls for, or substitute another green vegetable: English peas, sugar snap peas, green beans or cubed zucchini.
3 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth
1 cup pearl barley
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 bunch (1 pound) asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup dry hard cider, plus more as needed
1/2 cup (1 ounce) finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon (1 ounce) soft goat cheese, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the broth to a boil. Stir in the barley, cover and decrease the heat to low. Cook without stirring, until the liquid has been mostly absorbed, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered.
While the barley is cooking, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until nearly soft, about 4 minutes. Add the asparagus and garlic and cook, stirring from time to time, until they start to turn golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Pick out and transfer the tips of the asparagus to a separate bowl. (You will use them for serving.)
Stir in the cooked barley and place the saucepan over high heat. Add the cider, bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the barley thickens and absorbs most of the liquid but is still a little soupy, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan, goat cheese and lemon zest. Stir in the salt and pepper, taste, and add more of each if needed. If you prefer a looser risotto, add more cider.
To serve, divide the risotto among four to six plates. Arrange the asparagus tips over the grains and top with more Parmesan and goat cheese.
Nutrition (based on 6) | Calories: 236; Total Fat: 8 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 21 mg; Sodium: 339 mg; Carbohydrates: 33 g; Dietary Fiber: 6 g; Sugars: 5 g; Protein: 7 g.
(Adapted from "Fresh from Poland: New Vegetarian Cooking from the Old Country" by Michal Korkosz. The Experiment, 2020.)
This recipe was published on The Washington Post
Feature Image: Tom McCorkle