Barley replaces the traditional Arborio rice here for a textured, nutty-tasting whole-grain risotto. Soaking the barley overnight reduces its cooking time. Gold beets have a sweet, mellow flavor. When roasted with the skin intact, their beautiful color is preserved. Wait to salt the risotto until you’ve added the ricotta salata; as the name implies, it is quite salty. This aged ricotta does not melt, but instead retains a pleasant firm chewiness.
2 gold beets
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 yellow onion, finely diced
1 cup pearled barley, soaked in water overnight in the refrigerator
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
1¼ cups crumbled ricotta salata
Preheat the oven to 400°.
Wash and trim the beets, leaving a little of the stems so that you do not cut into the beets themselves. Put the beets in a casserole dish with 3 tablespoons water. Cover tightly and roast until the beets are very tender, about 45 minutes. When cool, pull off and discard the skins. Finely chop the beets. Add them to a bowl with the zest, lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, and a dash of salt. Set aside.
Pour the stock into a pot and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to a simmer.
Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, then the onion, and sauté until translucent. Remove the barley from the soaking water, then add the barley and garlic to the soup pot and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in the wine and cook until evaporated, about 2 minutes.
Ladle a cup of stock into the risotto and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat, adding the stock 1 cup at a time, until the barley is tender. This will take about 30 minutes. Reserve ¼ cup of the stock to stir into the risotto at the end. When the barley is tender, stir in all but a few tablespoons of the beets and cook for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and fold in 1 cup of the ricotta and the remaining stock.
Serve the risotto with a little olive oil spooned on top. Top with the remaining ricotta and the reserved diced beets. Season with black pepper.
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