Baked Barley Risotto with Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

published Apr 25, 2022
Mediterranean Monday
Baked Barley Risotto with Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomatoes Recipe

This cozy risotto-like dinner swaps whole-grain pearl barley in for the usual arborio rice.

Serves4

Prep15 minutes

Cook48 minutes to 58 minutes

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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jessie Yu Chen

This recipe is part of Kitchn 100 — the hundred recipes you need right now. Check out all of the amazing dishes, from Kitchn and beyond, here.

Short-grain arborio or carnaroli rice might be standard when making risotto, but really that’s just the beginning. I’ve risottoed (yes, that should be a new verb) farro and orzo with great success, and my current go-to is pearl barley, which is commonly used to make risotto in northeastern Italy and is confusingly called orzotto there since the Italian word for barley is orzo.

In this recipe, the combination of pearl barley, sweet and chewy sun-dried tomatoes, and wilted spinach gives you a hearty, ultra toothsome bowl. This hands-free recipe skips the constant stirring and lets the oven do most of the work, so you can attend to something else while it cooks or, better yet, sit back with a glass of wine.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jessie Yu Chen

Sun-Dried Tomato Broth Is the Secret to This Flavor-Packed Dinner

Most risotto recipes call for the grains to be cooked in chicken or vegetable broth. That’s all well and good, except for when I don’t have a homemade quart in the freezer or a box in the pantry, which, truthfully, is more often than not. So I improvise with water, but not just any water. Sun-dried tomatoes — not the oil-packed ones — usually need to be plumped and rehydrated in warm water before cooking anyway, so I simply use that richly flavored water as the cooking broth. It’s a simple no-waste way to cook that results in big, savory flavor.

Welcome to Mediterranean MondaySheela Prakash‘s monthly column of Mediterranean recipes. Here, Sheela will teach you all about the Mediterranean diet’s feel-good way of cooking and eating, and share vibrant, easygoing recipes. Cook with us using #mediterraneanmonday, and for even more great recipes, order a copy of Sheela’s cookbook Mediterranean Every Day.

Baked Barley Risotto with Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomatoes Recipe

This cozy risotto-like dinner swaps whole-grain pearl barley in for the usual arborio rice.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 48 minutes to 58 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces

    sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed, about 24)

  • 4 1/2 cups

    water

  • 1

    medium shallot

  • 1

    small bunch fresh oregano

  • 1

    small bunch fresh thyme

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 1 1/2 cups

    pearl barley

  • 1/2 cup

    dry white wine

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 ounce

    Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 packed cup grated on a Microplane or 1/3 cup store-bought grated)

  • 3/4 cup

    whole-milk ricotta cheese

  • 1

    small lemon

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    red pepper flakes

  • 5 ounces

    baby spinach (about 5 packed cups)

  • 2 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

  2. Thinly slice 4 ounces sun-dried tomatoes (about 1 cup) and place in a medium saucepan. Add 4 1/2 cups water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes to plump the sun-dried tomatoes and infuse the water.

  3. Meanwhile, dice 1 medium shallot. Pick the leaves from 1 small bunch fresh oregano until you have 1 tablespoon and coarsely chop. Pick the leaves from 1 small bunch fresh thyme until you have 2 tablespoons.

  4. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in an oven-safe 3 to 4-quart Dutch oven or small pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallot, half of the oregano, and half of the thyme, and sauté until the shallot is softened, about 2 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups pearl barley and stir until each grain of barley is coated and lightly toasted, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup dry white wine and simmer until the pot is almost dry, about 1 minute.

  5. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and infused water. Add 3/4 teaspoon of the kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat.

  6. Stir again, cover, and transfer to the oven. Bake until the barley is tender, chewy, and most, but not all, of the liquid is fully absorbed, 25 to 35 minutes (the liquid will not be fully absorbed).

  7. Meanwhile, finely grate 1 ounce Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 packed cup, or use 1/3 cup store-bought grated). Finely grate the zest of 1 small lemon into a medium bowl. Add 3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Stir vigorously to combine and lightly whip.

  8. When the barley is ready, remove from the oven. Add 5 ounces baby spinach a handful or two at a time, stirring between each addition, until the spinach is wilted, about 1 minute. Add 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and the Parmesan and stir vigorously until the risotto is creamy and thickened, about 1 minute more. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed.

  9. Divide the risotto among shallow bowls and top each with a generous dollop of the whipped ricotta.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.