Saffron Barley Risotto

The days and nights are hot and windy this time of year in Cape Town.

That means one of my favourite dishes, risotto, often takes a back seat until around May when the cold gives me an excuse to  load up on carbs and cheese and get all pudgy in the middle.

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However, I’ve always been one to break habit, flip off the status quo and do whatever the hell I like, despite the weather. Like going to the movies on a beautifully sunny day. Ah, blessed aircon…

On one particularly hot summer day recently, I spent the afternoon watching Nigellissima with my dear friend Wynand.

The beautiful and inspiring Nigella whipped up saffron orzotto with pearl barley as a side dish for her lip-licking roast chicken.

Last year Wynand brought me some saffron all the way from Barcelona so I decided this was all fate and whatever – and I would make the orzotto – with my own twists of course.

Saffron Barley Risotto

1 cup of pearl barley
1 onion, diced finely
2 tsp chopped garlic
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs butter
1L chicken stock
Some wine (optional)
1/4 tsp saffron
1 baby marrow, grated
Grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil and butter in a pot or pan over a medium heat. I’ve learnt over and over again that the pot doesn’t need to be THAT hot, Sam… You’re not grilling a steak here!

Fry the onions in the fat mix until translucent. Then add the garlic and fry for a minute more. Add the pearl barley and coat in the fat for a minute or so. Don’t let the grains stick to the pot. Trust me – I’ve done the hard, wasteful work for you.

Heat the saffron in the microwave for 90 seconds. Then crush with a mortar and pestle, or the back of a knife if you accidentally broke your pestle in the sick last time…

Add the crushed golden goodness to your stock. Pour all the stock (and wine if you’re so inclined as I am) into the pot, make sure the heat is lowish, give it a stir and let it cook, bubbling ever so gently.

This is the wonderful thing about barley risotto – no need to massage the rice as one does with normal risotto. You can just let it cook. Don’t go get into a 318-picture photo gallery on Facebook and forget about it now, but basically you won’t be building any biceps making this dish. Just keep your eye on it and give it a stir every now and then.

Once it has thickened a bit, add the baby marrow. Once all the stock has been absorbed, add the seasoning and parmesan, saving some for garnish. If it’s too thick, add some more wine, stock or water and stir.

It’s ridiculously easy for something that sounds so fancy. Nigella added some mascarpone to hers which sounds fantastically artery-clogging. Go for it.

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Serve as is or as a side dish with any lovely meat such as roast chicken or pork fillet.

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