Barley Risotto with Marinated Feta

The first bite we had of this resulted in a collective “wow”. It comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s superb book “Jerusalem”, and though he has called it a risotto it doesn’t require the constant watching and stirring of an Italian risotto, instead it’s an all-in, one-pot dish that cooks like a stew. It’s delicious, simple and quick to make, there is no excuse for you not to try this one.

The revelation here is the addition of strips of lemon rind. They soften and mellow as they cook, and provide a sharp counterpoint to the richness of the barley. Likewise, the marinated feta adds another taste and texture that elevates this from the merely great to the truly wonderful. If you don’t like feta then try it this way, I’ll wager it will convert you.

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RECIPE serves 4

200g pearl barley

30g unsalted butter

90ml olive oil

2 small celery stalks, cut into 5mm dice

2 small shallots, cut into 5mm dice

4 garlic cloves, cut into 2mm dice

4 thyme sprigs, leaves picked

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1 bay leaf

the rind of a whole lemon, cut into strips

1/4 tsp chilli flakes

400g tin chopped tomatoes

700ml vegetable stock

300ml passata

1 tbsp caraway seeds

300g feta, broken roughly into 2cm pieces

1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves


METHOD

Rinse the pearl barley well under cold water until the water is no longer cloudy, and leave to drain. You can substitute pearl barley for pearled spelt if you wish.

Melt the butter and two tablespoons of the olive oil in a very large frying pan, or risotto pan, and cook the celery, shallot and garlic on a gentle heat for around 5 minutes, until softened.

Add the barley, thyme , paprika, bay, lemon rind, chilli flakes, tomatoes, stock, passata and 1/2 tsp of fine sea salt. Stir to combine, bring to a boil then reduce to the gentlest simmer possible. Cook for around 45 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure it doesn’t catch on the pan. When the barley is ready it will be tender with a little ‘bite’ and most of the liquid will have been absorbed.

While the risotto is cooking, gently toast the caraway seeds in a dry pan for a couple of minutes until aromatic. Then, using a mortar and pestle, lightly crush them so that some whole seeds remain. Add them to the feta with the remaining olive oil, mix gently to combine thoroughly, and set aside.

When the risotto is ready, check the seasoning and divide it between four shallow bowls, topping each with the marinated feta (including the oil) and a sprinkling of fresh oregano leaves.

In this hot weather our thyme was in full flower so I picked some off and added small flower heads to each dish as well. They were also delicious and added even more flavour.

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