Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Barley and Roasted Tomato Risotto

I remembered another dish I have to share that we made before we went on vacation - it was more out of necessity, though, because I couldn't let the tomatoes go to waste outside! When I went out to the plants, I found I just barely had enough ripe Roma tomatoes we needed for this Barley and Roasted Tomato Risotto, but I did notice there were plenty of green ones still that were just beginning to turn. Thankfully, we had a few friends who stopped by and grabbed the rest when they were up to snuff so they didn't sit and rot!

After taking the tough skins off the Romas (which I know isn't the most fun job in the world), each one was sliced into wedges, then drizzled with good olive oil and simply seasoned with salt and fresh ground black pepper. You don't need a bowl for this - lump the tomatoes together, then dig right in with your hands to gently toss them around, allowing each edge to get a piece of the oil action. To allow the tomatoes to cook evenly, just be sure to then arrange the wedges in a single layer on the sheet.

Roasted until they shrivel and begin to brown, concentrating them down into sweet, dark ruby strips, take a few of them and set them aside. No, you didn't do all that work for just a garnish as most of them will go into the risotto, but a few draped on top of each is a nice way to gussy up the servings and to clue your guests into what they're about to enjoy!

For the base of this dish, shallots took charge by being softened in a bit of oil, followed closely by pearl barley that was tossed into the pan to start toasting. To give the grain a chance to soak in an acidic note before we start ladling in warmed broth, we added a couple shots worth of white wine and gave it a minute or two to absorb. If you've never used barley before, I wanted to note that you check out the total cooking time once you start working with the broth for this risotto. Unlike arborio rice, which ends up taking about 20 minutes or so, you will need to set aside a good 45 minutes or so to give the grain enough time to soften.

Plenty of broth (which happens to be vegetable in our case this evening) and a work-out worthy stint of stirring later, once you have worked in the liquid and pulled out some of the starch in the grain, this plain-looking dish was given a face lift by adding the roasted tomatoes, along with fresh basil, thyme, parsley and enough Parmesan for a sharp finish. We added the reserved tomato strips on top, along with a few small basil leaves and a touch of extra cheese just before serving. Now, you won't get as creamy of a result like you do when using rice, but with the barley ending up plump and chewy, making for quite the hearty, textural dish, all we could do was smile at each other as we were all too busy eating to comment! While this was nothing new, our guests and I found the combination exciting, very nutritious and just different enough that we were a little sad there wouldn't be any leftovers for the next day!

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