Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sun Dried Tomato Barley Risotto

I adore the traditional versions of risotto made with Italian superfino rice. In fact I am a bit of risotto snob. I can tell the difference in texture between a risotto made with the usual Arborio compared to my favorite Carnaroli. I love the texture of Carnaroli grains for their ability to remain distinct yet soft, compared to Arborio whose grains seems to lose their individual character.

So, why am I including a recipe for a barley risotto? While I love traditional risotto it is made with white rice. We all know that white rice is mostly devoid of nutrition. I do still make rice risotto, but more often now I make barley in the risotto style.

Barley is another one of those foods that is so healthy. One cup of barley contains over 50% of the recommended daily value of selenium. Barley is also very high in soluble fiber and is linked to a reduction in cholesterol. The insoluble fiber in barley helps feed the friendly bacteria in your intestinal tract. Barley also contains niacin that helps to protect us against cardiovascular disease. Overall there are many healthy and tasty reasons to eat barley. I wish I could make the same case for my beloved Carnaroli rice.

Sun Dried Tomato Barley Risotto
Serves 6 generously as a main dish


1/3 of a cup of sun dried tomatoes, finely sliced
10 cups of vegetable stock or water
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, finely diced (yellow or white is fine, I used red for color)
3 garlic cloves, minced (allow to stand 10 minutes after mincing to allow allicin to develop)
1/2 cup of dry white wine (like pinot grigio)
2 cups of pearled barley
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary, finely minced (could substitute thyme or oregano)

Optional Ingredients:
¼ cup of gremolata (freshly grated lemon zest from one lemon, one minced garlic clove and small handful of minced parsley)
½ cup of almond feta, for garnish


Place dried sun dried tomatoes in vegetable stock (or water) and microwave for a few minutes. Allow to stand so that tomatoes rehydrate. Put the tomato stock and rosemary in a pan and heat to a simmer.

In a very large pan sauté the onion in the olive oil until lightly brown. Add the barley to the onion and toast for a few minutes to bring out a slightly nutty flavor in the barley. Add the wine to the barley pan and cook, while stirring, until the wine has been absorbed. Add the tomato stock a couple of ladles at a time to the barley pan. With each addition of the stock taste for the appropriate level of saltiness and add as necessary. This helps the dish to be evenly salted.

Lower the heat so the pan is slowly simmering and stir the barley a few times. Set the timer for 5 minutes and walk away (unless you love to stir). Every 5 minutes repeat, by adding stock, stirring, checking the salt level and setting the timer for 5 minutes. Continue this process until the barley reaches your desired consistency.

Barley risotto takes at least 45 minutes to absorb enough liquid to become tender which is why I lower the heat and walk away every 5 minutes. When the barley risotto has almost reached your desire texture you can either stay and continue to stir until it is done or put a lid on the pan turn off the heat and come back in 10 minutes.

Directions for optional ingredients:

If you like you can add the almond feta when you serve the risotto, but it isn’t necessary. It will have plenty of flavor without the cheese.

If using gremolata add it to the top of the risotto when plating. You can always just add a little finely minced Italian parsley.


This barley risotto has a big flavor from the sun dried tomatoes and fresh rosemary. If you like roasted garlic that would also be nice added to the stock. The green from the parsley and the white from the almond feta make a nice color contrast to the dish. Sometimes I add a little finely sliced sun dried tomatoes that have not been cooked, for textural variety.

This recipe makes great leftovers. We frequently pack this for lunch. It makes a nice vegetarian dinner or lunch with a salad on the side.

When choosing a pan to prepare the risotto make certain it is large. The barley will swell to at least 4 times its original size.

If you run out of stock before the risotto has reached your desired degree of tenderness add additional water to the pot.

Why do you heat the tomato flavored stock? Adding heated stock to the barley risotto ensures the barley continues to cook as quickly as possible

1 comment:

  1. A hearty variation on the risotto theme. This is one of my favorites.


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