Spring Cleaning 1: Asparagus Barley Risotto

Don't forget the freshly ground pepper and shaved cheese!

Not sure why, but I have a bee in my bonnet these days. Perhaps it’s the interminably long winter we’ve had here, but I want to clean. Not just clean the house, open the windows, and let the fresh air in, but really hoe things out, including the fridge, freezer, and cupboards. So, in this quest to start anew, I’ve started to look in the larder and create recipes from the grains I have waiting to be used. Staring at me in their glass jars are wheat berries, quinoa, barley, black beans, lentils, and whole wheat couscous.  What to do, what to do?

Last Sunday, I had a craving for a risotto I make each spring when I see the first young asparagus in the store, but is made with the usual Italian short grain rice. Instead of rice, I substituted barley. It was delicious and heated up well for lunches during the week. With this recipe, I was able to use some barley and a jar of homemade chicken broth I defrosted from the freezer. This takes some kitchen time, you have to constantly stir the barley, or if you’re like me, try to constantly stir the barley, sometimes my attention wanders elsewhere! There’s still one more cup of barley left for tomorrow night’s dinner, but I’m making headway. Stay tuned, recipes will be coming!

Asparagus Barley Risotto

1 cup pearled barley
1 cup finely diced onion
3 cups-plus chicken broth
Young asparagus
A couple of dashes of white wine or dry vermouth
Freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

1. In a sauce pan, heat the chicken broth and add some chopped asparagus (a cup or more, depending on how much you’d like). Once heated through, turn to low and keep it warm. (Note: I didn’t cook the asparagus before putting it in the stock, it cooked while in the broth. If you find they aren’t soft, you might have to bring the broth to a short boil, then turn down to low.)

2. In a stock pot, heat 2 tsp. of olive oil. Add onion and cook until translucent. With a large ladle, add some of the stock. Stir the barley until the liquid is almost gone, and continue, one ladle at a time adding stock until the barley is cooked. During this time, add a couple dashes of white wine, continuing to stir. Make sure you leave just a touch of moisture in the dish, you don’t want the barley to be completely dry.

3. When ready to serve, top with freshly ground black pepper and a few grates of Parmesan or Romano cheese and serve warm.

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