If you've never cooked with barley, this is the perfect recipe for becoming acquainted. Barley is far more nutritious (it's a whole grain) than traditional Arborio rice used in risotto, yet is very similar in look and texture once cooked. Moreover, barley is a fraction of the cost and easier to find than Arborio rice and is a snap to cook. Sometimes it's shelved in odd places in the supermarket: you'll most likely find it shelved with rice, in the health food section, or (as it's shelved in my supermarket) with ready-to-eat soups and broths.
3/4 pound asparagus; ends trimmed, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup finely chopped onion (about 1 small onion)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth, divided use
1 cup pearl barley (sometimes labeled medium pearl barley)
1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced or chopped
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (plus additional for serving)
Related: Green Pea Risotto with Scallops
Cook the asparagus in a large skillet of boiling water for 2 minutes, drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.
In a large heavy saucepan cook onion in butter over moderate heat, stirring until softened. Add 3 cups of the broth and the barley. Simmer, covered, until most of liquid is absorbed and barley is al dente, about 30 minutes.
Gradually add remaining cup broth, about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in the asparagus, walnuts, parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper. If desired, serve with additional Parmesan cheese. Makes 4 servings.
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