Recipe: Asparagus Orzotto Verde

Recipes from The Kitchn

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Spring has sprung, and it's brought along with it some of the year's brightest, greenest, and most delicious produce. What better way to use these gems than in a colorful, springtime barley risotto?

For a twist on the classic Italian risotto, today we're swapping the arborio rice for some hearty pearl barley. Mixed with fresh asparagus and an herb puree, this orzotto shows off barley's lighter side.

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Barley is a nutty grain loaded with nutrients and fiber. It's usually found in wintry soups and stews, but it's a great substitute for rice in risotto. The barley for this orzotto is prepared just like a classic rice risotto: by lightly toasting the grain with your sautéed leeks and garlic in olive oil, and then adding the wine followed by simmering broth. As it cooks, the barley releases its starch and gives the dish a nutty creaminess.

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For this springtime orzotto, after the barley is fully cooked and the butter and cheese have been added in, a bright green puree made from blanched asparagus stems, fresh parsley, basil and lemon zest gets folded into the creamy barley. The fresh and fragrant puree cuts the heavy, starchiness of the barley, becoming a green orzotto that's bright in both color and flavor!

This recipe can be easily doubled and served to a crowd at a springtime dinner party.

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Asparagus Orzotto Verde

Serves 4

1 bunch of asparagus, about 15 spears

1/4 cup peas, fresh or frozen and thawed
1 cup parsley leaves, tightly packed
1/2 cup basil leaves, tightly packed
Zest from 1 lemon
6 cups vegetable broth (preferably homemade), divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large leek, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups pearl barley
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to season
Chopped chives and additional grated cheese for garnish (optional)

Trim the bottom inch (or so) off the asparagus and discard. Slice off the tips of the spears and reserve. Cut the rest of the asparagus into big chunks.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the chopped asparagus stalks. Cook for about 4 minutes, then scoop them into a strainer. Run under cold water and transfer to a blender. Add the parsley leaves, basil leaves, lemon zest and 1/4 cup of the broth. Blend until completely smooth. Set aside. Blanch the asparagus spears and peas (if using fresh peas) for no more than one minute. Transfer them to an ice water bath until the orzotto is finished.

In a large sauté pan, or pot, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sliced leeks and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic slices and continue cooking for an additional two minutes, or until soft. Add the pearl barley, and toast for about 5 minutes.

Add the white wine to the pan, and mix with the wooden spoon until most of the liquid has evaporated. Make sure your broth is simmering nearby on a low burner. Once the wine has evaporated, add two ladles of the broth and stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed. At this point, season the orzotto with a hefty pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Keep adding the broth one ladle at a time, letting the barley absorb each addition of broth, until the barley is completely cooked (a touch al dente) and chewy. This should take about 25 minutes.

Once the barley is cooked, remove from the heat and fold in the butter and grated cheese. Stir in the asparagus-herb puree, asparagus spears, and peas. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and mix until well combined. Serve immediately with chopped chives and extra grated parmesan cheese on top.

Recipe Notes

  • Vegan Orzotto: Leave out the butter and cheese at the end of cooking. Instead, add about 1/4 cup of coconut milk for extra creaminess.
  • Make-Ahead Orzotto: The orzotto can be made a head of time, but when reheated make sure to have some extra stock around so you can easily bring it back to its creamy consistency.

(Image credits: Karen Biton-Cohen)

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