I don’t usually need to look much further than “Jerusalem,” the second cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, for culinary inspiration. I’ve had several recipes bookmarked since receiving the book more than a year ago, and finally tried my hand at one of them recently. The recipe, barley risotto with marinated feta, has one of the shorter and least intimidating/indecipherable ingredient lists in the entire book. Still, I omitted a couple of ingredients based on my inventory, and the resulting risotto did not seem to suffer at all. I would urge any risotto lover to make this recipe during the winter months–it’s as close as I’ve managed to get to the ideal combination of comforting, healthy and interesting.
Ingredients (my notes in parenthesis)
1 cup pearl barley
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
6 Tbsp olive oil
2 small celery stalks (I left this out because, why else? I didn’t have it)
2 small shallots (I substituted red onion)
4 cloves garlic, diced
4 thyme sprigs (I used dried)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
4 strips lemon peel (I used more)
1/4 tsp chile flakes
one 14 oz can chopped tomatoes
scant 3 cups vegetable stock
1 1/4 cups passata (according to Ottolenghi, this is sieved crushed tomatoes. I strained a can of diced tomatoes and used that first, but then added the tomato juice anyway, because the barley was still thirsty. It worked out splendidly).
1 tbsp caraway seeds (omitted by me)
10 1/2 oz feta cheese, broken into pieces (I used less)
1 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves (I used dried, and less than 1 Tbsp)
Rinse the barley under cold water and leave to drain.
Melt the butter and 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet/frying pan and cook the celery, shallots (or onions) and garlic over low heat for 5 minutes, until soft. (I suggest longer than 5 minutes if you’re substituting onion for shallot to give the flavor time to mellow).
Add the barley, thyme, paprika, bay leaf, lemon peel, chile flakes, tomatoes (and/or passata), stock and salt. Stir until everything is well combined.
Bring to a boil and then reduce to very gentle simmer for 45 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the risotto from sticking to the bottom of the pan. It’s ready when the barley is tender and there is little liquid left.
If you’re using caraway seeds, toast them while the risotto is cooking. Then crush them, leaving some seeds whole. Add them to the feta with the rest of the olive oil and stir it up.
Serve the risotto topped with the marinated feta, and if you have fresh oregano leaves, some extras for garnish.