Barley Risotto with Asparagus and Hazelnuts

This recipe arrived in a Spring issue of Gourmet last year and I think I made it 3 times in the short season that asparagus was available. I love risotto, and the barley is a unique and healthy twist.

Using the stalks, tips, and even the cooking water makes the risotto sing with asparagus’s springtime flavor.

Active time: 30 min Start to finish: 1 1/2 hr
(Makes 4 servings)

  • 1 1/2 pounds medium asparagus, trimmed
  • 5 1/2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cups pearl barley
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 1 ounce finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1/2 cup) plus additional for serving
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Cut top third of each asparagus stalk diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices, reserving tips and slices together, then coarsely chop remainder. Bring water (5 1/2 cups) and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan, then add chopped asparagus and cook, uncovered, until very tender, 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a food processor (not a blender, which would require adding liquid).

Add reserved asparagus tips and slices to boiling water and cook, uncovered, until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer with slotted spoon to a sieve, reserving cooking liquid in pan, and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Drain well and reserve in another bowl. Measure cooking liquid and, if necessary, add enough water to bring total to 4 cups, then reserve.

Cook onion with pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt in oil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add barley and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and boil, stirring, until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute. Add 4 cups reserved asparagus-cooking liquid and bring to a boil, covered, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until barley is tender (it should be chewy) and mixture is thickened to a stewlike consistency, 35 to 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, mince garlic and mash to a paste with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt using side of a large heavy knife, then add to asparagus in food processor along with zest and purée until smooth.

When barley is cooked, stir in asparagus purée, asparagus-tip mixture, and enough additional water to thin to desired consistency and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until hot, about 1 minute. Stir in cheese, then season with salt and pepper. Serve with hazelnuts and additional cheese on the side.

*Asparagus can be cut and cooked, chopped stalks puréed, and cooking water reserved 1 day ahead, then chilled in separate airtight containers.

Recipe from Gourmet magazine, April 2007

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