Pearl Barley "Risotto" with Saffron, Artichokes & Peas
Rice is nice, but barley is... well, pretty nice too! I love the chewy texture of barley and the way it absorbs other flavors and makes them its own... just like rice... only... maybe a little better sometimes. Like this time for example!
I decided to make a saffron-infused barley this evening, to blend with baby artichokes and peas- all classics of Italian cuisine and perfect in combination. Especially with a kiss of Parmesan to lift all of those good flavors up together- you might just well be surprised at how wonderful this tastes together!
I love making dishes from such simple ingredients and then making them special. Oh, I know, I have a quite a few threads of saffron in this dish, but still, it is frugal and fabulous at he same time, as well as being healthy and delicious. Barley may be one of those long-forgotten ingredients- but seriously- why go following fads and trends and eating grains like quinoa when we have our own wonderful varieties right here? If it was good enough for the ancient Romans- then it's more than good enough for me!
For 2 nice portions I needed just 2 handfuls of barley, 1 shallot, 3 baby artichokes, 2 handfuls of peas, a little Parmesan, saffron and parsley and about 45 minutes of time.
The result is tasty without being overpowered by a strong vegetable or chicken broth, as would be the case with most traditional risotto dishes- no, this has all of the flavors of its constituent ingredients boiled into it right from the get-go... and they are more than enough! You better believe it!
I trimmed the artichokes and cut away the top 2/3rds of them- seems wasteful, but at the same time they are inedible! So, the only thing that might make sense, if you were to be making maybe 5-6 portions, would be to boil them up to make extra broth... but not tonight! Instead, I cut them in half, cut out the "choke" and then cut them into relatively thin wedges. T be precise, I cut them into quarters first and then cut each quarter into three slices. Other than that, all I needed to do was to finely chop the shallot and to chop down the stems of the parsley... and to heat up a pan, ready to get started!
I began by frying the artichoke slices, shallot and parsley in a little olive oil until they began to slightly turn brown.
I then added the barley and let it also get coated in olive oil, soaking up the flavor of artichoke and shallot. I seasoned with salt, pepper and a touch of nutmeg, then added the saffron- a good pinch. You can always add more as the barley cooks- the color it turns once the water is added should be a good indicator- and adding boiling water is the next step!
Add plenty of water- enough to cover everything and a touch more... bring it up to the boil, reduce it back down to a gentle simmer and then let it bubble away for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Next, add the peas, have a little taste to see if you need any extra seasoning and then let it simmer on for a further 10 minutes.
By now the barley will be tender, as will the artichokes and peas and all that needs to be added is a last trickle of olive oil, a good pinch of finely chopped parsley and plenty of Parmesan cheese, to be stirred-in to richen and bind the broth to a nice creamy consistency... Now- where are those plates?!?!
Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan and some freshly ground pepper and simply enjoy!
Perfumed, perfect and delicious- this is what a great Autumn dish looks like! And I sure hope you like it! I know that I do!