Skip over the midwest mom blogger intro if you wish, but here goes – as pretty much everyone in the northern hemisphere knows, we are fast moving away from summer and into autumn (or fall, if you’re American, and wrong).
Throughout an unbearably hot and air conditioner-free summer in Lugano, I felt pretty much zero desire to consume, much less cook, hot dishes. Salad was thus the order of the day (which is not to say that I was dieting – I’m talking enormous, grain-filled, cheesy salads here). However, as the days close in and the temperature drops, I find myself craving warmer, more hearty dishes.
This particular dish is, in my opinion, the perfect dish in these circumstances. It encompasses seasonal produce (beetroot), comforting grains (my favourite), the crunch of walnuts, and the delicious creaminess of goat’s cheese. Being healthy, with a lower GI than a traditional risotto and plenty of veg, is just a bonus. It’s also very visually striking with the purple, white, brown and green, so it’s a great dish to serve to guests.
Serves 4 very generously; 6 less so.
1 1/4 cup (300ml) pearl barley
2 tbsp olive oil
2 eschallion shallots
1 large clove garlic
500g beetroot (vacuum sealed type) – half pureed, half diced
150ml red wine
3 cups (700ml) vegetable stock
Salt & pepper, to taste
2 tbsp oats
15g parmesan, grated
30g walnuts, toasted
100g goats cheese (ideally the soft French type)
Optional – washed rocket leaves to top
Not all of this needs to be done beforehand – I personally tend to do it in a chaotic manner whereby everything is done simultaneously; however, if you’re a bit less confident, it will help to have everything prepped before you start cooking.
1- Dice shallots and garlic, keeping the two separate.
2- Weigh and measure out other ingredients (1 1/4 cups barley, 150ml red wine, 3 cups stock).
3- Blend half of the beetroot quantity (I had a vacuum-sealed pack of two roughly equivalent-sized beetroots, which helped here) with a couple tbsp of water to make a puree. If you don’t have a blender, you can grate it or just dice it and add it at the end (the colour may be a little less vibrant as a result but it’ll still be good).
4- Dice the other half of the beetroot quantity and set aside.
5- Chop and toast walnuts on low heat until golden and fragrant and set aside.
6- Grate parmesan and set aside.
1- Dice shallots, add to large pot with 2 tbsp olive oil and fry gently on low heat until soft (ca. 4 minutes).
2- Once shallots are softened, add garlic and cook for a further minute.
3- Pour in pearl barley and stir together with shallot-garlic mix, toasting for roughly one minute.
4- Add half the quantity of red wine, stirring until absorbed, then add the final half and do the same.
5- Add pureed beetroot mix and stir into barley mix until liquid is absorbed.
6- Begin adding stock, bit by bit, all the while stirring until the previous quantity added is absorbed. It’s a bit time consuming and arduous, but continue in this manner until nearly all of the stock is absorbed (or until a taste test shows that the barley has almost reached optimum texture – the quantity of liquid required may differ depending on the barley you’re using – more on this in the notes later). Don’t forget to season as you go!
7- When you’re down to your last 100ml or so of stock, add 2 tbsp of oats* and remaining stock, and continue stirring.
*I know this is a slightly rogue suggestion and Italians would have me lynched for calling this a ‘risotto’, but it helps to make the risotto ‘stick’ together without using arborio / carnaroli rice or large quantities of cheese & butter. Oats are actually great served savoury!
8- Taste test to make sure that the risotto doesn’t require any more liquid, before adding diced beetroot and parmesan and reducing the heat to low. Stir until parmesan is melted and diced beetroot suitably heated & incorporated.
9- Remove from heat. Depending on how you wish to serve (I’m lazy and greedy so usually just dump things in the middle of the table and eat like I’m at a buffet, but that is both unaesthetic and covid-unfriendly), either crumble goats cheese and top with nuts directly in the pot (no need to stir in) for communal serving, or portion out into pasta bowls and do the same.
Suggestions & Substitutions
- Walnuts can be replaced with pretty much any nut (or omitted altogether if you don’t like nuts). I’d recommend pecans (similar to walnuts but a bit sweeter), pistachios (delicious, and a really nice colour contrast paired with the purple beetroot), or toasted sliced almonds.
- You can really use any colour of wine – even leftover sparkling wine would do.
- You can also omit wine altogether if cooking for somebody who doesn’t consume alcohol for whatever reason. I made this same risotto sans wine at university for a charity thanksgiving dinner as a vegetarian option and was told by one very kind guest that it was the best risotto he’d ever tried. In the place of the wine, I added maybe 30ml (sorry, guessing here) of balsamic vinegar at the stage where wine would’ve been poured in.
- Shallots can be replaced with red or white onion – I have an irrational fear of white onion, hence my preference for shallots.
- You can cook your own beetroot from scratch instead of the lazy vacuum-packed option, but for some reason it seems to be not only lower effort but also cheaper to buy it pre-cooked, so I wouldn’t really bother.
- Not all pearl barley is created equal – for example, the one I purchase in Switzerland (pictured) appears shorter-grain than that which I buy elsewhere. The recipe should nonetheless work, but may require more or less liquid – keep this in mind!
Leftover rating – 2/3 I had this the next day for lunch, microwaved, with a big side of balsamic-dressed rocket leaves. I don’t generally find that risotto reheats very well, as the cheese goes a bit funny and the texture is never the same. Nonetheless, it still tasted great, and waste not want not (next time I need to just not make a 4+ person serving for two people!)
As an aside, and not something I did this time, making arancini (basically breaded, fried risotto balls – v healthy) is a great way to use up leftover risotto! Here I’d stuff extra goats cheese in the centre for optimum cheesiness.
Et voila; enjoy, let me know if you do happen to try this (and how it goes for you). Expect some more healthy, warm comfort dishes as the temperature continues to fall.