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Thursday, October 16, 2008

barley risotto with golden beets & greens


new season, new schedule

We’ve had a little break from baking our whole-grain sourdough bread after we ended our farmers’ market sales. Now we’re re-tooling to our wintertime bakery routine, and will begin baking again early next week. Our customers pre-order their bread every week (now through our brand-new website,!), then pick up their loaves from me at a couple of locations around Anchorage.

The neat thing about selling at the farmers’ market during the summer, then switching to a different wintertime routine, is that our year truly feels seasonal. We never get tired of one venue or the other! By the time the Saturday farmers’ market is over, I’m ready to stop standing around in the cold and I’m looking forward to my slower-paced sales in warm coffee shops on Wednesdays. And conversely, as June approaches, I am itching for the farmers’ market to begin!

The other nice thing about the seasonal switches is that each changeover gives us a chance to make a fresh start. It’s become an important time for us to reassess our weekly schedule and the daily rhythms (or lack thereof) that we’ve set up with Meredith, our four-year-old. With fresh eyes, we look at the habits we’ve gotten into (bad or good) in terms of exercise, sharing household chores, cooking, socializing with friends, and most of all, spending quality time with each other. It’s easier to make a change when our whole schedule is shaking up, anyway!

So this week has been a good one for catching up on things, deciding what we’d like to change, and strategizing about how to do it. One of our new tactics is for Dan to make dinner on Wednesdays, since I will get home late after selling the bread all day. Last night was our first Wednesday together since we ended our farmers’ market bread sales, and even though we didn’t bake this week, Dan started his new routine, and it was wonderful. Perched at the bar facing the stove while he prepared a lovely meal, I typed desultorily on our bakery newsletter. I’ll admit, I was mainly just soaking in the sights, sounds, and smells of someone else cooking my dinner! Listening to him chop onions, rosemary, and ginger… Watching him slice beets and excavate kale from our snow-covered vegetable patch…  Smelling the rich, savory aromas emanating from his cooking pots… What a treat, and a wonderful break for me. Yes, I love cooking our meals every day, lunch AND dinner, but Dan’s a good cook, too, and just hasn’t taken the opportunity to cook much, lately. Now I’ll be looking forward to Wednesdays every week!

barley risotto with golden beets & greens

This recipe is such a warming, wonderful one for the fall and winter. It’s gorgeous with golden beets, but I’ve made it with red beets, too—it’s VERY pink, but that’s also fun! The combination of ginger and rosemary is a surprising one, but the flavor is just amazing. This recipe is based on one in Peter Berley’s fantastic book, Fresh Food Fast.

For the beets, you can either cook them with the barley, as directed below, or you can use beets that you’ve already roasted and peeled, just adding them at the end, after the barley is completely cooked. (See my beet salad recipe for instructions on roasting beets.)

I like to make the recipe a little bit ahead of time, so there’s about an hour before eating it for the barley to soak up even more of the cooking liquid, and the flavors to meld. As long as you salt this dish to your taste, I think there is plenty of flavor without adding cheese, but you can sprinkle Parmesan cheese on at the table if you like! The cabbage & fennel salad with apples & raisins is a great match with this risotto.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
3 medium golden beets, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
1 to 2 bunches chard, beet greens, or kale
black pepper

1. In a large, heavy pot over high heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and 1 teaspoon of salt and sauté until the onion is starting to brown lightly—5 minutes or so. Add the barley, ginger, and rosemary and sauté, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the beets (unless they are already roasted—see note, above) and 4 cups of water and bring to a boil.
2. Cover the pot and simmer the barley over low heat, stirring fairly often (but you don’t need to be stirring it obsessively). You’ll need to add more water periodically to keep the barley from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Cook until the barley is tender and the beets are completely cooked. This will take something like 40 minutes, but just keep tasting to see how it’s coming along. The barley releases starches as it cooks, so at the end, you’ll have a beautiful creamy porridge-like risotto.
3. While the barley cooks, prepare the greens. Remove their stems and chop the leaves into ½-inch slices. If you’re using kale (I recommend it!), you’ll need to blanch it, first. Boil it in a pot of salted water until tender (5-8 minutes—just keep tasting it).
4. When the barley is tender and creamy, add the greens to the pot, and if they were raw when you added them, cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the greens are tender (3 to 5 minutes). If the beets were already roasted, add them now. Taste for salt. Make sure to add enough to really bring the flavors up. Season with pepper to taste.
5. If you have time to cover it and let it rest for a 30 minutes to an hour before serving, do so. Reheat just before serving. 


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