Abigail Cahill O'Brien

Shrimp & Asparagus Barley “Risotto”

In Food on May 27, 2010 at 10:19 am


It’s been a food-heavy week here on 5thjoy, but I’ve got to get this recipe out to you before we see the last of spring.  And I may have already missed that mark.

Who isn’t a fan of risotto?  It’s warm, silky, and sops up cheese like nobody’s business.  That said, it’s a bear to cook at home.

Now, it’s not so bad if it’s the main dish and you’re cooking for four people.  The problem being that I usually cook for eight or more, and no one wants to sit down to a plate of rice for dinner these days.  Except my husband.  I love you, you crazy carb-huffing freak.  The rest of the family, including me, appreciates a bit of protein and a load of vegetables with their risotto, which rules out the vigilance required for ceaseless stirring.  The other dishes stubbornly refuse to cook themselves.

The answer is to make “risotto” from barley.  I’m not saying it’s exactly like the real deal, but it’s in the same comfort food arena with two key benefits:  one can make it for a crowd, and there’s more nutritional bang for your buck in barley.

My favorite part of this recipe?  No asparagus waste!  It’s such brilliance to use the asparagus water to flavor the barley, and to puree the tough stalks with lemon zest to further flavor the end product.

I borrowed from Gourmet and Epicurious to create the following, and I tripled it.  If you’re doubling or tripling the barley will take longer to cook (10-20 mins).  Do not skimp on the lemon.  I was a little short on lemon zest, and it could have used the additional zing.  I only had a pound of asparagus, and it was fine even when everything else was tripled, though it would be better with more.

Also, I used frozen shrimp from Trader Joe’s.  If you use fresh, give them 2-3 minutes to cook through.

Shrimp & Asparagus Barley Risotto

Makes 4 servings. Can easily be doubled or tripled.

  • 1 1/2 pounds medium asparagus, trimmed
  • 5 1/2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cups pearl barley
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 1 ounce finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1/2 cup) plus additional for serving.  I subbed Pecorino Romano.
  • 1/2 lb frozen shrimp, thawed and shelled
  • Cut top third of each asparagus stalk diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Set aside, then coarsely chop the remaining tough stems. Bring water (5 1/2 cups) and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan (if you’re doubling or tripling use a stock pot.)  Add chopped asparagus and cook, uncovered, until very tender, 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl, add the lemon zest and garlic, and pulse with a hand-held immersion blender until smooth.  Set aside.

    Add reserved asparagus tips and slices to boiling water and cook, uncovered, until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve cooking liquid.  Rinse asparagus under cold water to stop cooking if you like – I didn’t bother.   Drain well and reserve in another bowl.

    Cook onion with pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt in oil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot (If you’re doubling or tripling, just wipe the  stock pot with a paper towel before re-heating ad adding oil) over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add barley and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

    Add wine and boil, stirring, until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute.

    Add reserved asparagus-cooking liquid and bring to a boil, covered, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until barley is tender (it should be chewy) and mixture thickens to a stewlike consistency, 35 to 40 minutes.  When tripled, this took more like 50 minutes.

    Take this time to throw together a salad, grill or roast additional vegetables and meat, or just breathe deeply and appreciate the absence of stirring.

    When barley is cooked, stir in asparagus purée, asparagus-tip mixture, and enough additional water to thin to desired consistency and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until hot, about 1 minute. Add shrimp and stir until warmed through, about 1 minute.  Stir in cheese, then season with salt and pepper. Serve with additional cheese on the side.

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