Pearl barley seems to have got stuck in the winter stew category. No more! The chewy fat grains make a great summery (and very affordable) risotto.
I’m loading it up with peas but add any veg you have kicking around in the fridge. Top with radish slices, herbs and/or leaves from the top of veg.
You can find pearl barley in lots of small supermarket stores – Tesco express has a 500g packet for 55p. Carnaroli risotto rice is £1.69.
How is this eco?
Growing rice, including risotto rice, produces a lot of greenhouse gas. Rice is grown in paddies, which are flooded fields. When plant matter degrades in water, it releases methane, the second most potent greenhouse gas. Growing rice accounts for 20% of the the world’s manmade methane emissions.
And worryingly rice paddies produce more methane as the climate gets hotter, this 2012 study showed.
Pearl barley isn’t grown in paddies, so it has a much lower footprint. And we are very good at growing it in Britain. Together with France, we have the greatest yield ratio for the amount of nitrogen fertiliser used to grow it (see page 87 of this 2o12 Defra report).
Nitrogen fertiliser results in the release of nitrogen oxide, another greenhouse gas. We need nitrogen to fertilise crops but it is a huge contributor to the greenhouse gas footprint of food – much more so than transport. So the less used to grow barley, the better!
For the pea puree
150g frozen or fresh peas
1 tbsp oil
150ml veg stock
For the risotto
1 onion, finely diced
2 tbsps oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
300g pearl barley
100ml white wine
500ml veg stock
40g hard cheese, grated
Juice of half a lemon
2o0g frozen or fresh peas
Garnish – pea shoots, leafy veg tops, sliced radishes or extra cheese sliced with a vegetable peeler
To make the puree, cook the peas for 3 minutes with the oil then add the stock and simmer for 3 more minutes. Blend with a handblender or in a mixer and leave to cool.
In a big saucepan, add the oil then sweat the onion over a low heat for two minutes. Add the garlic and pearl barley and cook for 3 minutes to toast the barley lightly. Add the white wine and cook for 2 minutes. Then add all the remaining stock, give it a big stir and put a lid on the saucepan. Keep the heat low.
After 25 minutes, check the barley is a texture you want to eat. If it’s too hard, cook for another 5 minutes or until al dente. Add the peas – if frozen, cook for 2 minutes, if fresh, cook for 4. Stir in the pea puree, cheese and lemon juice and top with any garnishes.