I was about twelve when my mother taught me to make risotto. I fell in love. I found the stirring soothing, and the dish beyond delicious.
About a week after she taught me to make risotto, my mother had a meeting that was going to go straight through dinner. She asked me to cook. No problem. I’d cooked dinner for the family plenty of times. She left instructions. Great. Roast, check. Veggies, check. Risotto, no problemo.
Well, almost no problemo.
When I went to start the risotto, I couldn’t find the rice. I searched high and low, but the only rice I could find was a box of Minute Rice. Even if I wasn’t a complete food snob even then, the fact remains that Minute Rice does not a good risotto make. I had to get dinner on the table, so I had to think fast. Then I spotted a jar with what I thought was brown rice in it.
Brown rice is rice, so I assumed it would work. It’s not a quick cooking rice, so I assumed it would result in something that had the right texture. I love the flavor of brown rice, so I thought this might even be good. What I didn’t realize until I had been cooking for a while was that I’d actually reached for the pearl barley.
I know, I know, pearl barley doesn’t really look like brown rice to the trained eye. The thing was, I wasn’t trained in that particular aspect of food. Whatever the silliness of my mistake, however, it remains one of the best mistakes I’ve ever made.
The entire family loved barley risotto.
All the same, I never made it again. You see, it was a mistake, and at that point in my life, mistakes were to be swept under the rug as quickly and efficiently as possible and never, ever made again, even if the result of the mistake was something good.
I’m older and wiser now. I know that there are mistakes to be shoved to the back of the mental closet, ones to mull over and learn from, and ones to be embraced as serendipity. It was time to rediscover barley risotto.
My resolve coincided with two things that made it even more serendipitous. The first was plans for a visit from some good friends and fellow foodies who have recently gone vegetarian. I needed a hearty main dish that would involve no meat, but would satisfy Mr. Twistie who sometimes irrationally fears vegetarian meals as failing to fill him up properly. The second was the fact that I joined a CSA, getting my first shipment of farm-fresh organic fruits and veggies just two days before our friends arrived.
There was I with a fridge full of fabulous leafy greens and piles of great, fresh citrus. I decided to do a big salad followed by a risotto using some of the bitter greens. I went looking for a recipe. Here’s where I found it.
Take a look at that. Barley, greens, meyer lemon juice and zest, cheese, toasted pine nuts… how good is that? It’s beyond awesome. For the greens, I used a combination of kale and chard. I also went a tidge heavy on the cheese, because when it doubt, I always add more cheese.
How did it turn out? Rich, creamy, but refreshing at the same time. So delicious. The only complaint about it was the same one I heard when I was twelve: there just wasn’t enough. Everyone wanted more.
By the way, here’s the CSA I joined. I recommend it highly to anyone in its delivery range. It’s convenient, easily customizable, and surprisingly inexpensive. If you’re outside the delivery area and looking for a CSA to fit your needs, check out this site and see what’s available to you.