13 October 2008
vegan MoFo 05: lessons in risotto-style barley
Despite the heat hovering (still!) over these early-autumn evenings, for the past few weeks I have been craving risotti of all flavors. A novice at making this rich dish, I still have quite a bit to learn. In my pre-vegan days, I depended on butter and parmegiano reggiano to makeup for my lack of know-how, but my more-recent dairy abstinence hasn't put an end to my desires for something creamy and satisfying.
I've made risotto with arborio and carnaroli before, but since I'm trying to incorporate more healthier whole grains into my diet, I decided to use pearl barley instead. I've seen this idea implemented several times before, most notably by Heidi Swanson here.
My first risotto-style barley was a few days ago. I roasted a butternut squash (it weighed 2.24 lbs before removing the skin and seeds) and added it to the barley at the end. I also added sage, saffron, arugula and toasted pecans. The taste was delicious and the texture was pretty good for the first try.
Then I tried a new version with beets, apples, beet greens, toasted walnuts and a hint of cloves. The flavors were nice, but I think the texture was still lacking. Risotto made from barley will never be as creamy as its arborio or carnaroli counterparts because it has less starch. But, after comparing what I did differently between the two recipes, I think I've learned a few things that will help bring barley to its fullest potential. Everything basically comes back to helping the grain release the starch slowly. Here are some tips to help:
1. You want to help the steam escape as the steam cooks the grain too quickly. Use a wide-based, shallow pan and if you have a fan above your stove, turn it on. Don't cover the pan with a lid.
2. Start by cooking the onion and garlic and then adding in the grains to toast. You only need to toast the grains for a few minutes, just until they're hot and you can hear them making a kind of hissing sound. For me, this was about 2-3 minutes.
3. When you add your liquid, make sure that it is warm. Cold stock (or wine) shocks the grains and will prevent them from best releasing their starch.
4. Stirring frequently (especially after new additions of stock) helps the steam escape and makes for a creaming risotto.
5. Add liquid in small batches of about 1/2 cup, and only when the rest of the liquid has been absorbed.
6. You may not want to use broth for all of your liquid (you may want to use water or low-sodium broth for a portion of the necessary liquid). Since you will use more liquid than when you typically cook grains, the taste and sodium of the stock may be too overpowering.
7. Keep the grains cooking on a low-medium heat. Cooking too quickly will result in a poorly-textured risotto.
8. Right before serving, add a bit more of olive oil and stir really well to incorporate, giving it a glossy finish and enhancing the creaminess.
9. Allow the risotto to rest a minute before serving it on plates.
And, now for the recipe:
Risotto alla Barbabietola
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 cup of pearl barley
4 cups of vegetable stock (you may not need all of this)
3 beets and their greens (if you don't have beet greens, use several handfuls of spinach or arugula, instead)
1 small apple
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
1. Set the oven to 425 F. Wrap the beets in foil or place in a pan and cover and set in the preheated oven. After about an hour, chop the apples into 3/4" chunks and put in the oven. When the beets and apples are tender, probably about 10-15 more minutes, remove them and allow to cool. Once the beets have cooled, remove peel and chop into 3/4" pieces.
2. Meanwhile, heat broth in a pan and keep at simmer. In a wide, shallow pan, saute onion and garlic until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add barely and toast for about 2 minutes.
3. Add wine and stir briskly until incorporated. Add broth 1/2 cup at a time, adding more only as liquid is absorbed. Continue adding liquid, stirring after every addition, until barley is just tender. The barley should be al dente, not mushy and not crunchy.
4. Add the beet greens and allow to wilt. Add the beets and apples and stir. Finally, add the olive oil and briskly stir one last time. Serve on plates and top with pieces of toasted walnuts.