I: Risotto is awesome.
Ok. We clearly love risotto; the problem is keeping a reasonable stock of arborio rice. So a while ago, after reading about barley risotto at Heidi’s, we decided to try it out for ourselves. The first time we used a half and half mix of pearl barley and arborio rice; result: the grains were totally indistinguishable. This time I tried it all on its own, and lo, it worked perfectly. I’m thinking we’re never buying arborio ever again.
Barley risotto with tomato and corn
white wine/dry vermouth
optional parmesan/other grating cheese
You always start a risotto with broth. Broth is easy and makes things totally awesome. Risotto purists are going to want you to use chicken broth, but risotto purists also probably aren’t going to be making their risotto out of barley, so whatever. We clearly use veg broth.
Veg broth: put several cups of water in a pot on the stove. Add the trimmings from your vegetables (minus corn husks and silk), plus a few pieces of any other vegetables you may have lying around: mushrooms, potato peels, carrot, celery. I save all my vegetable trimmings and stick them in a bag in the freezer for stockpile, which makes this very easy and simultaneously awesome. Making food out of trash represent!
Put your veg in the pan with the water, cover, and bring to a boil. Simmer until you have a reasonable broth. It takes only about ten minutes to release some flavor from your vegetables, although more time is better.
Risotto: this is pretty easy. I’ve talked about risotto a bunch of times; the procedure isn’t any different for a risotto that’s entirely barley-based. First, chop up an onion or a couple shallots. Sauté them in the bottom of a deep saucepan, using olive oil, butter, or both. I like to use both, so you get butter taste but higher smoking point due to oil; in conclusion, no butter scorch. Also olive oil is great. Yes.
When the onion has softened, add about a cup of barley, plus a cup of dry white wine. Technically you can use red wine for risotto, but I like white better. Stir your rice, wine and onion intermittently, with the heat on medium, until the wine has largely absorbed into the barley.
(I really wish “rice" were a more generic term for “grain”, like “corn” used to be; I want to use it interchangeably with similar grains like barley, wheat berries, or spelt. Maybe somewhere it is used interchangeably (although I am probably projecting.))
Add a cup or so of your broth to the risotto pot and cook, stirring intermittently. Again, wait for the liquid to absorb. Keep adding broth and cooking the business together until the rice is nearly entirely done; there may be a little opaqueness right at the center of each grain at this point.
Now is the time to add vegetables, especially relatively quick-cooking vegetables like tomato and corn. Actually, I might add the tomato earlier, to let it amalgamate. Whatever. For the tomato: peel it by the blanching method (cut cross in skin, submerge in boiling water 30 seconds, then peel the split skin), then dice it up. Add it to the pot. Corn: cut it off the cob with a gentle sawing motion, removing any stray silk or husk, then add it to the pot. Add another ladle of broth and stir, cooking once again, until the grain is completely done.
Take the pan off the heat; salt, pepper, and optionally parmesan it; put it in bowls. Awesome barley risotto!
John had his plain; I had mine with seared shrimp. In theory, the shrimp was a good idea; in practice, when combined with the sweet tomato and sweet corn, it was a little much. There wasn’t enough contrast. So, although you can clearly eat this on its own, what vegetables could we substitute to contrast well with seared shrimp? Dark greens, braised endive? Endive marinated in vinaigrette and charred in the frying pan on the cut side? I think I would actually put that on top of the risotto with (or instead of) the shrimp, though. Besides, that’s starting to be a ridiculous amount of work. Dark or bitter greens are probably the best idea: chard or spinach would melt into a risotto like nothing.
II: John made me dinner and it was great.
Shrimp and rice salad business
short grain brown rice/other grains
white wine/dry vermouth
chervil/other fresh herbs
maybe some lemon
Ok. First we’re going to soften some onion and cook the rice on top of it. It’s kind of like starting as a risotto, then finishing as a pot of actual rice.
Get out a saucepan with a lid and heat a splash of olive oil in it. Dice an onion; throw it into the oil to cook slowly. You can really use any allium you want or have for this, as long as it’s going to provide some sort of oniony taste. I’d use up to a whole medium onion or 4-5 cloves of garlic for one cup of rice.
When the onion has caramelized, deglaze the pan with a little water. Dump in your rice and twice that amount of liquid. I use water or broth and sub a little white wine or vermouth in at the end. So for one cup of rice I’d maybe put in 1.5 cups of water or broth and .5 cup of vermouth. Stir the pan to evenly distribute the onion and oil, put on the lid, and cook just like you’d cook a regular pot of rice. That is, let it steam for about 15-25 minutes, depending on the kind of rice you have. You could also do the entirety of this first part in a rice cooker instead of a pot: useful in the dorm.
While your rice is cooking, defrost any frozen shrimp in hot water. Core a tomato and cut it into eighths, or halve cherry or grape tomatoes. Get out a handful of chervil or another herb and chop it roughly. We happened to have chervil because it came in the CSA box, but it’s kind of hard to find on a daily basis. Flatleaf parsley, other highly green leafy herbs, or even something like finely shredded spinach or arugula would be good substitutes.
When the rice is finished, it’s time to sear shrimp. First, dry them well; this will reduce the hot oil splatter. Oil and water hate each other, so keep them apart! Get a pan good and hot, swirl in a little oil, and lay in your shrimp. Season them with salt and pepper. Cook for about a minute and a half, then flip and continue cooking another minute. At this point your shrimp should be fully cooked and starting to brown just a little. Whip them immediately out of the pan and away from the heat, so they don’t toughen up.
Now put it together. Fluff your rice, salt and pepper, and serve it. Since we thought ridiculous presentation would be fun/use up some of our never-ending vegetable supply, we made the salad on a big cabbage leaf. It would clearly be fine in a plain bowl or on a plate, though. So. Start with rice; add seared shrimp, tomato pieces, and a generous handful of chopped herbs. You can also squeeze some lemon over the plate if that sounds good. Give it a final grind of pepper, and you’re done.
Ok, just think about how easy this would be when having people over for dinner. Before people get there, soften the onion and stick the rice and liquid in the pot, defrost the shrimp, and do all the chopping. About a half hour before you want to eat, turn on the heat under the rice. Let it cook by itself while you’re off doing other things, then sear the shrimp and assemble everything at the last minute. It should only take about eight or ten minutes to get everything totally done. Of course, if you’re us, you would be in the kitchen hanging out for the entire party anyway, but you know. Whatever floats your boat.
In conclusion: rice rice grain rice tomato shrimp rice! DO IT.