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Barley Risotto with Marinated Feta by Yotam Ottolenghi

Posted Apr 30 2013 8:30pm

I have been thinking that I *needed* to make a barley risotto for quite some time. I was intrigued by this Barley Risotto with Marinated Feta from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi . It was the idea of the feta, marinated in caraway and olive oil and the combination of aromatics and spices--garlic, shallots, lemon peel, thyme, smoked paprika, chile flakes, and oregano that drew me in. I have been loving the unique way Ottolenghi combines flavors and ingredients. Hearty, colorful, vegetarian, and although it takes time and a little effort, not as persnickety as risotto with rice. 

Jerusalem says, "This vegetarian main course is a dish everybody loves, particularly children. Unlike proper Italian risotto, ours does not require the exact precision and meticulous preparation, but still tastes sensational."   

Barley Risotto with Marinated Feta
Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
(Serves 4)

1 cup / 200 g pearl barley
2 Tbsp / 30 g unsalted butter (I used Earth Balance)
6 Tbsp / 90 ml olive oil (separated)
2 small celery stalks, cut into 1/4-inch / 0.5 cm dice
2 small shallots, cut into 1/4-inch / 0.5 cm dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 thyme sprigs
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
4 strips lemon peel
1/4 tsp chile flakes
one (14 oz / 400 g) can chopped tomatoes (I used diced fire-roasted
scant 3 cups / 700 ml vegetable stock
1 1/4 cups / 300 ml passata*** (sieved crushed tomatoes)
1 Tbsp caraway seeds
10 1/2 oz / 300 g feta cheese broken into roughly 3/4-inch / 2 cm pieces
1 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves
salt and black pepper to taste

Rinse the pearl barley well under cold water and leave to drain.

Melt the butter and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a very large frying pan and cook the celery, shallots, and garlic over gentle heat for 5 minutes until soft. Add the barley, thyme, paprika, bay leaf, lemon peel, chile flakes, tomatoes, stock, passata, and salt. Stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a very gentle simmer and cook for 45 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure the risotto does not catch on the bottom of the pan. When ready, the barley should be tender and most of the liquid absorbed.

Meanwhile, toast the caraway seeds in a dry pan for a couple of minutes. Then lightly crush them so that some whole seeds remain. Add them to the feta with the remaining 4 tablespoons /60 ml olive oil and gently mix to combine.

Once the risotto is ready, check the seasoning and then divide it among four shallow bowls. Top each with the marinated feta, including the oil, and a sprinkling of oregano leaves.  

***Passata: This was my first experience with passata which basically is just fresh tomatoes "passed" through a sieve or food mill to remove all seeds and lumps. For giggles, I look for it in the Italian section of my local gourmet grocery and found a big glass bottle from the Primo brand. I decided to try it but you could easily make your own or Pomi makes a strained tomato puree that is the same thing--just tomatoes strained smooth, nothing more.  

Notes/Results: Satisfying and lots of rich tomato flavor. The barley is slightly chewy with just the slightest smoky heat from the smoked paprika and chile flakes. I used a French sheep's milk feta and it added a great tangy touch and creamy texture that combined with the slightly pungent toasted caraway, was very unique. Great for a veg-friendly dinner party or still simple enough to be a weeknight dinner. It does take some time but most of the stirring needs to be done just toward the end of the cooking time to prevent sticking as the bulk of the liquid absorbs. This recipe was another Ottolenghi winner for me--I would make it again. 

The I Heart Cooking Clubs theme this week is "Going WITH the Grain"--you can see what grain-filled recipes everyone made by going to the post and following the links.

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