Sunday, March 1, 2009

Risotto-Style Barley with Roasted Beets

Imagine that you have a picky eater at home and they ask you, "what's for dinner?" Your reply is Risotto with Roasted Beets. You would think that the objectionable food in this scenario would be the beets, but through some freak of nature the objectionable food for my picky eater is the risotto. The man loves beets.

A lot of people seem to anxious about cooking risotto, thinking that if the pot isn't stirred every second or if too much broth is added at a time everything will go wrong. While risotto requires more attention than a lot of other dishes, it really isn't that difficult to make.

You'll notice in the ingredients (and the title of the recipe for that matter) that I'm actually using barley instead of Arborio rice in my risotto dish. I'm doing this for a couple of reasons. One, barley is a whole-grain so it's healthier. Two, barley is a way cheaper then Arborio Rice ($.73/pound versus $3.86/pound). And three, the husband does not find risotto objectionable if I use barley.

Here's the ingredients:

3ish cups chicken broth
3/4 cup barley (or Arborio rice)
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup dry vermouth
a few golden or red beets (or a combination)
3 oz goat cheese
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

I roasted the beets the night before I made this dish while I had the oven warm for another dish. I peeled and sliced the golden beet because it was huge. By slicing it I ensured it would cook in the same time as the red beets. I tossed them in olive oil and a bit of salt, wrapped them in foil and roasted them for about 40 minutes at 450 degrees. I let the beets cool and then stashed them in the fridge for the night.

I put my stock in a small pot and brought it to a boil, then reduced it to a soft simmer (the broth needs to be warm as it is added to the risotto so that the barley (or rice) doesn't cool too much as it is added).

In a second pot (I used a 3-qt saucier but a stock pot would work just fine) I heated up a touch of olive oil. When it was hot I added the shallot and let it cook until translucent, then I added the barley and cooked it for about a minute longer, stirring a lot. The first addition of liquid was my vermouth. I let this boil away, stirring occasionally until the pan was almost dry. I repeated this process adding the chicken stock one ladle at a time, then stirring occasionally until the barley was tender.

While the barley was going (because while it needs attention, it does not require constant attention) I worked on my beets and pumpkin seeds. In a skillet I heated a little olive oil and then added my pumpkin seeds with a little salt. I cooked them, tossing frequently until they turned roasty-toasty and some of them started to pop. Here they are:



I took the seeds out of the pan and added my golden beets which I had cut into 1/2-inch or so pieces. I tossed them in the hot pan with a bit of salt and pepper just to heat them through then removed them from the pan, then I repeated this process with the red beets.

To finish the dish, I stirred most of the golden beets, a few of the toasted pumpkin seeds and some of the goat cheese into the barley.

I divided this between my bowls and made a little divot in which I placed my red beets (I didn't stir in the red beets into the dish because I didn't want the whole thing to turn pink). I topped it all with my remaining goat cheese and the rest of the toasted pumpkin seeds.

How was it? Really tasty and perfect for a cold, February night. The roasted beets were sweet and delicious and the barley gave it a nice nutty flavor that was great with the beets. I told the husband that I had made it with barley instead of Arborio rice and his reply was "that must be why I like it then," which for risotto (in my house) is high praise. Plus, he loves beets so it was hard to go too wrong.

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