Pearl barley risotto

Although it irritates the linguistic purist in me, if I call this an orzotto, although perfectly Italianate, no-one will know what I’m on about. Apart from Nigella, who tried her damnedest to make the word real in Nigella’s Christmas, which is where I first came across the use of pearl barley cooked in a lazy risotto manner.

Until then barley was the slimy grain with a weird scratchy seam down its middle that spoiled many a Scotch broth for me.  But as with so many things, I found when I cooked it a lot less, I liked it a lot better.  Unlike when I make risotto, I seem to rarely overcook a barley risotto, probably because it’s a tough little blighter and probably takes over an hour to go to mush.  And not even I forget the pot for as long as that.

Last night’s roast chicken leftovers were in my sights (and boy, that was a tasty chicken.  Label Anglais via Farm Direct. Yu-um) but I’m bored of pasta and Matt isn’t usually a massive risotto fan (probably because I often forget about it and it gets overcooked….), so I turned to the cheapest carb in the cupboard, even if you buy it at Waitrose (49p for 500g).  And when cheap meets tasty, I know I’m onto a winner.

Roast chicken pearl barley risotto
Serves two for dinner, plus one slightly smaller packed lunch box serving

I onion, chopped small
1 carrot/handful of teeny Chantenay carrots (which is what I had), chopped the same size as the onion
1 big/3 skinny inner (again, what I had) sticks of celery, chopped in the same way
150g pearl barley, rinsed
Slosh of white wine or similar booze (dry vermouth or sherry) or skip it if you’ve got none open
500ml stock
couple of pinches of dried herbs (I used tarragon and sage)
1 bay leaf
Leftover roast chicken to suit your appetite
Spoonful of cream cheese/creme fraiche/cream

Fry the onion gently in a very small amount of oil in a saucepan that’ll hold at least the half a litre of stock you’re going to add.  After about 5 minutes, add the celery.  After another 5 add the carrots and the barley.   Turn the heat up a bit and pour in a good slosh of wine/vermouth and let it bubble up a bit to burn off the alcohol.  Pour over your stock in one go and stir. If your stock was cold, whack the heat up to get it to a simmer, then turn it down.  If it’s hot you don’t need to.  Get the the pan at a gentle simmer, and leave it, lid off, for about 30 minutes.

[A note on stock – any neutral stock will do, or vegetable stock granules.  I used veal stock cubes tonight because I had some and honestly, I wasn’t that impressed with it when I made the stock, even reduced down, so thought I’d use it up here.  Normally I’d use Marigold bouillion powder or Kallo organic cubes.]

After you’ve messed about on iChat/Facebook/Twitter for half an hour, visit the kitchen and check the pan.  Chances are most of the stock has been absorbed or evaporated, leaving you with slightly chewy-but-not-tough barley.  According to your chewiness preference, either add a bit more water and let it cook another 10-15 minutes, or finish it off now.  You’re eating it, you be the judge.

Now’s also a good time to cook something quick like peas or cabbage to go with the risotto, if you need to top up your 5 a day.  I did.

To finish it off, add the chicken and any tasty bits of congealed gravy bits, and stir around.  Add the cream cheese or similar if you fancy it, leave it out if you’re feeling pure.  Let it sit a minute or two to mingle and give time to drain your greens, plate it and you’re done.

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