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Barley Risotto with Bacon, Peas & Mint

May 22, 2015

Barley Risotto with Bacon, Peas & Mint

Risotto has a terrible reputation of being quite hard to conquer. Except, it’s not hard. In fact, it’s ridiculously easy. I believe risotto gets the diva reputation from the standing over a hot pot, stirring constantly for nearly half an hour. I get it. During the summer months, getting a facial full of steam is not my idea of a good time (not that I would enjoy it all that much in Winter either). But any other time of year, risotto is totally worth the sweat. I also like to add a step to the process that makes it all worth while and completely enjoyable. More on that in a minute.

After years of whipping up risotto at home with the traditional arborio rice, you come to learn that risotto is not a “thing” but more of a technique. You have a starch that you lightly coat with oil and toast and then ladle by ladle whirl in liquid, letting it absorb every last drop of flavor before adding in more until you’ve got a creamy concoction on your hands. So why does it have to be just rice? It doesn’t. Any sort of starch that soaks up liquid and holds its shape will work.

Barely Risotto ingredients

You can make risotto with elbow macaroni noodles, quinoa, even regular rice. Will it always be the same consistency as arborio rice? No. But then, that’s sort of the fun of it. And that’s what happened when I first made barley risotto. I was inspired by the budding trees and colorful flowers bursting from the ground in early Spring and wanted something fresh. Because I could care less about what my arteries are up to, I had bacon on hand, a bag of frozen peas stashed in the freezer and fresh mint whose main purpose was to be muddled into oblivion in an invigorating Mint Julep. I knew that all of those would come together quite nicely, there was just one problem, (although in this case, you can probably tell, not that problematic) I was out of arborio rice. But I had plenty of other grains on hand. Lentils, amaranth, farro, quinoa and barley. An idea was hatched.

Barley

One common myth about risotto is that it needs to be stirred CONSTANTLY. It doesn’t (there are a number of recipes out there for risotto baked in the oven). But you also don’t want to walk away for long periods of time. If there isn’t enough liquid in your pot, the risotto can stick and start to burn in spots. But because barley doesn’t absorb liquid nearly as quickly as rice, you can actually step away to do some other things, like chop some veggies for a salad. Just don’t go too far away and completely forget. You still want to stir the pot fairly frequently.

Your best friend when making risotto

So remember before when I mentioned I added a step? Here it is: when you throw in the barley, you stir it a bit in the hot oil to coat it all and toast it slightly. Normally when I make risotto, I pop open a bottle of wine and use just a bit to deglaze the pan and christen the liquid absorbing process. (However, this recipe calls for Vermouth, which is my usual standby for when I don’t have an open bottle, which I did the first time, but the flavor was so great, I just kept it in.) So now you’ve got an open bottle of wine. The smartest thing you can do is pour yourself a glass. One should NEVER waste wine. That’s a criminal offense I believe. So now you have a friend to keep you company as you stir your part of simmering grains. A friend that will make you happy and before you know it, it will be dinner time. Thanks friend. If you don’t have wine on hand or plan on using it, a cocktail will do, obviously.

Butter melting into bacon fat is a gorgeous sight

When making any style of risotto, the key is to be prepared. Once you start making the risotto, you really don’t want to stop. When all the vermouth and stock have been absorbed, it’s time to add your featured flavors. And then it’s time to eat it. So with this particular recipe, you can’t cook the bacon after the risotto is all set up. Keeping risotto warm and at the right consistency is difficult. It’s not impossible, but after all that stirring and drinking, you’re going to be hungry. Just ask any Top Chef contestant. By crisping up the bacon first, not only is it ready to go, but you also flavor the oil for the barley and get to use the bacon fat. Win win. It’s also helpful to measure everything else out like the peas, chopped mint and parmesan cheese. It will make your life easier. If you’re a fast drinker, have a second ready to go.

Barley Risotto with Bacon, Peas & Mint

The first time I made this, I served a salad alongside of it. A very easy salad. One that I could chop up and mix as I went along making the risotto. Have a sip (or gulp) of wine, give the pot a stir, have another sip of wine, chop up some lettuce and repeat. I’m not telling you to save making the salad for during the whole risotto stirring process. What I’m saying is that it’s possible. You should only do it if you feel comfortable enough. Although enough wine any will make anyone feel confident enough to do that. Too much will make you pass out. So know your limits.

I always find it best to heat up the stock on the stove and keep it nearby. Hot liquid is absorbed much quicker. If you add cold liquid to a hot pot, it will cool down the contents and then each time, you have to wait for the liquid to come up to temperature before the barley will begin cooking again. I also find it best to always heat up more liquid than called for. Sometimes, a little extra stock is needed. Anything that’s left can be cooled and kept in the fridge until you need it next.

Barley Risotto with Bacon, Peas & Mint

Each time you add your hot stock into the risotto, it will be loose. If you drag your spoon across the pot, the line it makes fills in with liquid immediately. When the liquid is nearly all absorbed, you can drag a line through it again, only this time, it slowly disappears, that’s when you know to add more liquid. But when do you stop adding liquid? The best option is to just taste it. Get a spoon, and bite the barley. If it’s really crunchy, it’s obviously not done. You also don’t want it to be mush. The barley has a bit of a bite, but that gives way to a soft center, basically al dente.

If you find that you have leftovers (hard to imagine), add some liquid to the risotto when you reheat it. The risotto will become creamy again. Will it be the same as before? No, but it will be fairly close and just as satisfying.

Barley Risotto with Bacon, Peas & Mint

Barley Risotto with Bacon, Peas & Mint
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Barley cooked risotto style and paired with a smokey and refreshing topping of bacon and peas for Spring (or any time of the year really).
Servings Prep Time
2 generous portions 10 minutes
Cook Time
45 minutes
Servings Prep Time
2 generous portions 10 minutes
Cook Time
45 minutes
Barley Risotto with Bacon, Peas & Mint
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Print Recipe
Barley cooked risotto style and paired with a smokey and refreshing topping of bacon and peas for Spring (or any time of the year really).
Servings Prep Time
2 generous portions 10 minutes
Cook Time
45 minutes
Servings Prep Time
2 generous portions 10 minutes
Cook Time
45 minutes
Ingredients
Servings: generous portions
Units:
Instructions
  1. Grab a medium sized pot, fill it up with your stock, turn the heat on.
  2. It's time to make the bacon! I like to use a Le Creuset dutch oven because it cost a lot of money and I want to get my moneys worth (plus it's awesome for this). To the cold pot, I drizzle in the olive oil and the drop in the bacon. Then the heat goes on to medium-high and as it sizzles and bubbles and bursts, stir the contents every now and then. Use some of the downtime to line a plate with paper towels. Once the bacon is a delightful dark red color and it's looking mighty crispy (but not overly crispy), turn the heat off and remove the bacon from the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer it to the paper towel lined plate. Pour the rendered fat out of the pot and into a container to save for later use, saving about 1 tablespoon of bacon fat in the pot. Wipe the edge and bottom of the pot (carefully) with a towel to get any grease that dripped down.
  3. Crank the heat back on to medium-high and slide in the butter. It's going to sizzle and bubble and smell absolutely amazing. DO NOT LICK THE POT. I know you will be tempted, but don't. Just inhale. Your tongue will thank you. When most of the butter has melted, pour in your chopped onions. Give a good sprinkling of salt and pepper and give it all a wonderfully enthusiastic stir. Cook the onions down until they are softened and covered in delicious buttery bacon juice. This can take about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on your stove.
  4. When the onions are translucent and shimmering in pot, add in the barley. Stir all of the contents so that the barley gets bathed in the hot oil (spa day!). Stir every so often to make sure nothing is burning on the bottom. Cook for a few minutes, until the barley starts to toast or you get impatient.
  5. Now it's time to pour in the vermouth. the barley and onions will rejoice in this alcoholic shower by sizzling and bubbling rapidly. While they are all super excited and drunk, take this opportunity and work your spoon all around the pot scraping up and bits that may have stuck to the bottom or sides.
  6. Stir, stir, stir. Turn the heat down a hair. When nearly all the vermouth has been absorbed, grab a ladle and add in about a cup of hot stock (remember when we preheated it in the first step?) Guess what? Stir. And stir.
  7. Still stirring I hope.
  8. Basically, you are going to add liquid and stir for a while, about 30 minutes. Add hot stock and stir until most of the liquid is absorbed. It's easy. It's just tedious. But remember, you have a drink!
  9. So though the magic of the internet, 30 minutes has passed. Now is a good time to check your barley. Give it a bite. See if it's done. You want it al dente. So that means soft, but with a bit of a bite. Add more liquid if you need. If you don't, then let's go to the next step.
  10. Turn the heat off. To the pot, add your parmesan and peas. Stir to combine. You'll notice that the parmesan will thicken it up a bit. If it's too thick for your taste, just add a little bit of hot stock to thin it out. Once that's all been thoroughly combined, go ahead and add in the mint. I like to save some chopped mint to sprinkle on top. Give it a taste and see how much more salt and pepper you'd like to add.
  11. When all that has been stirred and combined and mixed and all that stuff that you're doing, it's time to plate it up. Basically, that just means you take a spoon, put it on a plate and then top with a sprinkling of the bacon and a dusting a chopped mint (adding more parmesan and black pepper wouldn't hurt either).
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