Sunday, April 25, 2010

Italian Food Sunday: Sicilian Salad and Risotto Primavera

Good Evening. I hope you are all having a great weekend. Ours has been a little slow and lazy, but in a very restorative way. We both feel like we are rested enough to start another week. Not that we wouldn’t prefer a much longer weekend. ;-)

We have decided to change dinner with my parents into more of a late lunch, early dinner for a while and see how that works. Why do people like to eat so early once they get old? Anybody know the answer?

For supper today we had a little Italian food since it is our comfort food of choice. Given that it is spring I was in the mood for pasta primavera. But I wanted to make a healthy version so I made barley in the risotto style and added in fresh veggies at the end so that they would retain both color and nutrition. To go with the risotto we had a quick Sicilian salad of fennel, red onions, citrus and a little sliced olive. Both dishes disappeared fairly quickly so I know they were enjoyed by both the omnis and vegans at the table. Here is how I made the salad:

Sicilian Orange and Fennel Salad
serves 4


1 small red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 fennel bulb, sliced in half top to bottom and thinly sliced into half moons (reserve stems for risotto recipe below, reserve a few fronds for garnish)
2 large oranges, or 4 small ones, peeled and sliced into rounds, seeds removed
4 olives, pitted and slivered
Salt and pepper, if desired


Combine the onion and vinegar and toss to coat. Add the fennel and refrigerate until needed. To serve, place the onion and fennel on the base of the plate and top with the orange slices and one olive thinly slivered. Top with fennel fronds for garnish. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Nutritional Information:

Amount Per Serving
Calories - 79.71
Calories From Fat (8%) - 6.26

Total Fat - 0.74g
Saturated Fat - 0.08g
Cholesterol - 0mg
Sodium - 70.79mg
Potassium - 414.87mg
Total Carbohydrates - 17.75g
Fiber - 4.65g
Sugar - 8.6g
Protein - 1.94g


This is a classic Sicilian salad combination. Normally it contains quite a bit of olive oil, but we think it tastes great with just a touch of sliced olive. It is one of my favorite salads. The sweetness of the oranges plays well with the saltiness of the olives. I also like the tenderness of the oranges against the crispness of the fennel. This is a very nice salad. I hope you give it a try.

Next recipe:

To go with our salad we had a simple risotto primavera made with barley since that is healthier. Here is what I did:

Barley Risotto Primavera
Serves 6


1 yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
4 stalks celery, finely diced
½ cup fennel stems, thinly sliced (optional but a good addition if you have them from making the salad)
¼ cup water to sauté the aromatics
2 cups barley
Water or light veg stock to cook the barley (heat 4 quarts to start)
¼ cup nutritional yeast
1 cup frozen peas
¾ pound asparagus, woody ends removed, remaining veg thinly sliced in 1/16 inch circles, tips reserved for garnish
4 cups spinach, julienned
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely minced
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste


Water sauté the aromatics (water, garlic and celery) until tender. Then add the barley and about 1 cup of water and bring the heat to medium high and begin stirring. When the water has mostly evaporated add another cup of water. The first few additions of water will be quickly absorbed. You do not need to stir constantly, only every few minutes. You are stirring for two reasons: to keep the barley from sticking, and to create a thick starchy sauce. When you stir you are rubbing the grains of barely together and starch is being released into the cooking liquid. This is how you end up with a creamy risotto without cream.

Continue to add water, a cup or so at time until the barley is the texture you desire. I cooked mine for 45 minutes over fairly high heat. When you like the texture of the barley add the remaining ingredients (except the asparagus tips) and turn off the heat and put the lid on the pan. You want the warmth of the risotto to heat the veggies but not cook them. A little crunch from the veggies is good to add textural variation to the dish. Taste for salt and pepper and serve with a few asparagus tips on top.

Nutritional Information:

Amount Per Serving
Calories - 347.83
Calories From Fat (4%) - 14.29

Total Fat - 1.6g
Saturated Fat 0.3g 2%
Cholesterol - 0mg
Sodium - 182.8mg
Potassium - 699.7mg
Total Carbohydrates - 69.66g
Fiber - 15.19g
Sugar - 3.41g
Protein - 11.51g


If you like risotto made with rice but you want something that is healthier this is good choice. It has a lot of flavor, more than you would expect. One of the nice parts of this dish is that it reheats exceptionally well. Dan loves when I make barley risotto so he has leftovers for lunch. This dish would also be good with a little almond feta on top if you like

Unrelated note:

There is something about a gray day that just doesn’t inspire me to be very productive. We have had another very relaxing day at our house, unless you count housework that is. How two adults make so much laundry is completely beyond me.

Tomorrow I have a few things I want to accomplish so I may not be around until the afternoon. But overall this coming week should be a good one and you should expect many posts from me.

I am actually going to try to develop a menu for the week. This is something I have tried to do for years but somehow it never seems to stick. But I am going to try it again and see if I can make it work this time. I will keep you posted on my progress. This leads to a question. How many of you stick to a weekly menu? If this is something that you manage to make work do you have any tips for sticking to the plan?

For now I am going to do a few things around the house and relax with a mug of green tea. I hope you are having a relaxing weekend too. Talk to you tomorrow.


  1. goodluck on making a menu. i think Mexican food is my comfort food instead of Italian. when i lived in NJ the most popular restaurants were Italian, i really missed my mexican while i was there!!and now its hard to get really good Italian. so its gray over there? im sory to hear that:( its pretty nice here so it'll probably get better soon. ttyl ill send some sun your way

  2. Michelle,

    Being half Italian makes it my comfort food of choice. But Mexican is good too.

    It has been gray since Friday. We got a little rain over night but mostly it is just gray. No complaints though as we didn't get any tornadoes.

    talk to you later,

  3. The only time I've made a risotto was using barley actually. It turned out sooo good too. Yours looks fantastic. I used to stick to a weekly menu, but lately, not so much. I'm all over the place with waning to try new things. In some ways, I miss my set menu plan for the simplicity.

  4. Heather,

    I used to love risotto made with carnaroli. But since I switched to barley I find that is fine too, especially since I know it is so much better for us.

    I am going to try to come up with weekly menu today. Only time will tell if I can stick to it.

    hope you had a great weekend,

  5. I love the salad, but the risotto, is the winner here! I almost died when I saw it!!!!!
    You are very creative, and think outside the box and I really like that! I love risotto so much!
    Yay you!!!

  6. Brandi,

    Thanks! I am happy you like it. Even my picky parents like my barley risotto. The texture is a little more chewy, but in a good way if that makes sense. I hope you give it a try.


  7. Your risotto sounds awesome. I bought some asparagus at the farmers market this weekend, so I may try my hand at some. I've never made it before. I'm a big lover of Italian food (and language and culture). Italian was my minor in college, and I spent a semester in Milano. Do you know what part of Italy your family comes from?

    I do try to meal plan every week. It's usually more of a guideline, though. I make lunches for three of my four work days and then have a basic idea of dinners. There's lots of wiggle room, though.

  8. Brigid,

    I love Italy and should have minored in Italian, but didn't. While you were studying did you see much of Italy? I love all of it, but Firenze and Venezia are both special to me. But the Amalfi Coast and San Marino have their own appeal. My family is mostly in Southern Italy and Roma.

    I wish I could stick to a meal plan. I drafted something last night for this week. We will see if I can stick to it. I think I need to do what you do with a lot of wiggle room so I don't feel "confined". Thanks for that idea. :-)


  9. I've been to Italy three times and have seen all the major cities (Milano, Venezia-though only briefly, Firenze, Roma, Napoli) and some smaller areas (Pisa-one of my favorites, several small Tuscan towns on the coast, Capri, Sorrento, Pompeii, and a whole bunch of villages in the Como area). My love and I are hoping to vacation there in the fall. He's never been, so we'll probably do the major cities, but I'm hoping we can squeeze in Cinque Terre also. I've always wanted to go. I'd move to Rome in a heartbeat if I could.

  10. Brigid,

    We have been to the same places. Cinque Terre is lovely you will enjoy it. The next time you get to the Amalfi Coast go to Ravello. It is a gorgeous little hill top town.

    I love Italy in the fall. The weather is gorgeous and most of the tourists are gone. We are trying to get back this year as well. My husband loves driving in Italy, particularly the Amalfi coast drive. He loves the "adventure" of backing up for buses on that narrow hillside road.

    We have considered retiring to Italy. I think it is hard not to fall in love with Italy.



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