Orzo con Zucchine Rotonde, Peperoni e Pancetta
Pearl Barley with Round Zucchini, Red Peppers, Bacon & Thyme
It had been a while since I made a dish with barley- so decided to do just that tonight. I had one of those grapefruit-sized round zucchini's that needed to be used up too. So, already my options were beginning to look vegetarian again, being as the zucchini was a little too large for a side dish. And so a vegetarian dish it was- with bacon of course and a hint of Sambuca for good measure!
This was the first time for me, that I prepared one of those little, round, zucchini squashes- but most probably not the last! I found it to be juicier and more flavorful than the regular zucchini, whilst not becoming too soggy and soft during cooking... what's not to like?!!
I started off by frying up a handful of bacon bits till they became crispy- these were for my garnish and finishing touch later, so I took them out of the pan and set them aside. Next came the zucchini, which I sliced thinly and fried until golden brown in the same frying pan, using the remaining bacon fat to add more flavor. I added chopped garlic, a hint of chili and a couple of sprigs of thyme, and made sure to carefully flip the zucchini slices and get them nice and brown. Don't over-fill the frying pan for best results- it will take a while longer this way, but it is well worth it!
In the meantime, I started preparing the barley, which I had soaked for 30 minutes prior to starting. I drained it and lightly toasted it in my saucepan with some finely chopped onion and garlic, with a little finely chopped celery leaf- just in order to start the cooking process. I then deglazed the pan with a splash of Sambuca and added enough boiling water to cover it. I seasoned it with salt and pepper and a hint of nutmeg and put it onto a low simmer with the lid on.
After finishing the zucchini, I did the same with the finely sliced red pepper, frying it with garlic and bacon until it began to brown. You will find that the bacon browns-off before the peppers are ready- so add a little boiling water to the pan and keep up the heat until it evaporates away, adding a pinch of sugar and stirring all the time. This will give the peppers a wonderful hint of caramel flavor.
Once the peppers are finished, chop a spring onion finely, along with a handful of parsley and a few sprigs of thyme and add these to the barley. Add a hint of olive oil to give the barley a light glaze and you are ready to serve!
Layer the peppers, zucchini and barley and sprinkle with the crispy bacon bits. Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh thyme and a light squeeze of lemon juice- and if you are feeling daring, a great thing to do is to pour a little Sambuca into a ladle, heat it up over one of your burners, ignite it and pour it over your dish to flambé it and give it an extra hint of anise flavor... fantastic!