Barley is sadly underused—other than in the odd soup, it rarely makes an appearance. What a shame! It has such a chewy, satisfying texture and nutty flavor. In this play on risotto, barley takes the place of Arborio rice for a dish that is less creamy, but more hearty and requires much less stirring. The pops of chewy barley and peas go well together, but as with regular risotto, you can use any vegetable—just adjust the cooking time depending on what you choose. For a more traditional risotto flavor, substitute Romano cheese for the ricotta.
Barley Risotto with Peas
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 5 cups broth
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 2 cups frozen peas
- ½ cup Ricotta
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 slices bacon, chopped
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Pour the barley onto a rimmed baking sheet, spreading it into an even layer. Place it in the oven and bake until the barley is golden brown, 10 minutes. If you’re short on time, skip this step, but you’ll lose out on the toasty flavor.
- Place a small pot over low heat and add the broth. It just needs to heat up and stay warm.
- Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it becomes translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
- Add the toasted barley and lemon zest, then stir to coat with the butter and onion. Add a ladleful (about ½ cup) of broth and stir. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding another ladleful of broth whenever the barley looks like it needs it. Reduce the heat if you notice the broth disappearing quickly.
- At the 20-minute mark you should have used up about 4 cups of broth. Add the frozen peas and another ½ cup broth. Stir until the broth is absorbed. Try a piece of barley to see whether it is fully cooked. There should be no hard center and the barley should be soft, but still chewy and whole. If the barley is not quite cooked, add the remaining ½ cup broth, stir, and keep cooking. Once it’s ready, add the lemon juice and ricotta and stir. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. You should be generous with the pepper, but the salt will depend on the saltiness of your broth, so be mindful.