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I really love risotto, and as you may have noticed I have already posted a couple of recipes. Unfortunately, while Mr GP and I are both risotto fans, the kids are not so keen. They love rice, just not the risotto texture. Thankfully, when it comes to other grains, Mr M especially is quite keen. At the same time, I’m always trying to increase whole grains in our diet anyway, and recently to cut back a little on white rice and pasta, so switching some meals to barley or spelt or farro instead of rice is a good way to do this.

So, to this orzotto (when made with barley it’s apparently orzotto in Italian). Of the various grains, pearly barley is one of the quickest to cook, and while not as starchy as risotto rice, has a similar creamy texture when cooked. This is assisted by the leeks and cheese, which both add creaminess, and are also a lovely flavour combination. Leeks with cheese is a classic, but I hadn’t tried with goat cheese before. The original recipe was a low carb one (see book below), but I’ve adjusted to make suitable for hungry teenagers! We eat this as is, but I can definitely imagine it alongside lamb perhaps if you wanted to include some meat or extend it a bit. I used to be unsure about goat cheese, and if that’s you, this is a lovely way to try it as it’s very much mellowed by the other ingredients.

Now to question time, what are your favourite grains?

Orzotto with leek and goat cheese

Inspired by a recipe in the Fast 800 recipe book

  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 400g pearl barley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp stock powder
  • 2 large or 3 medium leeks
  • 30g grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
  • 150g fresh goat cheese
  • a few large sprigs fresh thyme (about 1 Tbs leaves)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper (depends on your taste and salt levels in stock powder, but about 1/2 tsp of each)

Finely chop the onion (you can do this in a food processor if you like).  Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently cook the onion for 5 minutes or so until translucent.  Add the garlic, and cook for another couple of minutes. Rinse barley to remove husks and drain well. Add the barley, increase heat, and fry until slightly toasted.  

Now, unlike a normal risotto, you don’t have to gradually add hot stock here.  Just add the stock powder, bay leaf and 1.5L hot or cold water. Partially cover with a lid and bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes until barley is tender. You don’t need to stir often, but check water levels regularly.

While the risotto is simmering, remove the roots and tough leaf tops of the leeks and wash the leeks thoroughly as dirt gets in between the layers at the top. Slice the leeks thinly.

The aim for risotto is to have a thick but still ‘flowing’ texture, noting that barley doesn’t produce as much starch so won’t ever be as creamy as risotto rice.  Once the grains are almost cooked (test by tasting), if the risotto is too dry add some extra hot water.  You can also add water if it’s all evaporated and the barley still isn’t cooked (or take the lid off and increase heat if too much liquid). Add the sliced leeks and cook another 10 minutes until the leeks are tender.

Turn off the heat, and add the parmesan, half the goat’s cheese and thyme leaves, and season well with salt and pepper.  Stir briefly and leave, covered, for five minutes.  Before serving, stir again and check the seasoning.  I don’t like to season too early as the stock and parmesan add salt.  Serve with remaining crumbled goat’s cheese, thyme leaves, and extra parmesan.

Serves 4