Saturday, September 12, 2009

Risotto: A Rice Among Pastas

The weather switched overnight from hot and humid to autumnal and windy here in DC. In my efforts to eat with the seasons, I'm working to create hearty, nutritious dishes as winter approaches. Growing up with mother who lived for years in Roma, pasta was a staple in our household. Risotto, however, was something I didn't have the pleasure of sampling until I went to college. While scrummaging around for healthier versions of risotto, I came upon a recipe for barley risotto.

Barley is a whole grain which contains all eight essential amino acids. Like other grains, there are many strains of barley: two row, six row, and hulled. For cooking, I've found the easiest type of barley to work with is pearl barley, which has the hull and bran removed. Barley - unlike arborio rice (which is used to make traditional risotto) - has a much lower glycemic index, which means it takes longer to digest, keeping its diner fuller for a longer period of time.

My first autumn run to the farmers market yielded a beautiful butternut squash and a bunch of beets. After a lengthy conversation with a farmer, I learned that I can use beet greens as a substitute for spinach in any recipe. With these items and knowledge in tow, I embarked on this fabulous dish, which was served recently at a going-away party for my friend Felix, who moved back to Spain a couple of weeks ago.

Serves 5-6

1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced into small cubes
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
4 quarts organic vegetable broth, divided into three
2 quarts water, divided
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 medium white onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup pearl barley, raw
beet greens collected from 1 bunch of beets
1/3 cup goat cheese

1. Coat butternut squash cubes in 1.5 tbsp olive oil. Roast in the oven at 350* for 20-25 minutes.
2. In a small pot, boil 1/3 of vegetable broth with rosemary for 10 minutes.
3. In a large pot, saute onion and garlic with remainder of olive oil.
4. When onion mixture is golden, add pearl barley and saute for a few minutes.
5. Crank heat up to high and add rosemary andvegetable broth mixture.
6. When the liquid has evaporated, add the second 1/3 of vegetable broth and remainder of water.
7. When the liquid has evaporated, add the final 1/3 of vegetable broth and remainder of water.
8. When the majority of remaining liquid has evaporated, add in the butternut squash and stir gently.
9. Reduce heat to medium.
9. Taste to see if the barley is cooked.
10. Stir in beet greens until they are wilted.
11. Remove from heat and stir in goat cheese.
12. Enjoy!

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