Pearl barley risotto with greens

I’ve had a grain wave.

It seems I’m having a tryst with pearl barley.

It’s nutty. It’s fluffy. I love the way it expands and unfurls as you cook it. I could make some awkward comparison between the way it  reveals itself and the promise of a new year. But I won’t.

It’s cheap. I like that too. Here are some other positive attributes of this little nugget; it’s filling, but not bloating. While it takes some time to cook, it doesn’t need close supervision. It was born to multi task. A little like me.

(The Hungry One might disagree).

While some might assume that pearl barley was invented  as a mere manger for  lamb stew, it also plays very nicely with things that are green. Which is a good thing. Particularly after a week of turkey, brie and cranberry, that was chased with a search for the best schnitzel and strudel.

So this is dinner; a  dollop of pesto on top of a barley risotto style concoction, busy with fingernail stumps of green beans and zucchini, shredded broccolini and a great big handful of frozen peas. Comfort food personified.

It’s comforting because it has squish and can be eaten out of a bowl that’s perched on my lap. Because I can sip a glass of wine and check my emails while I make it.

And comforting because when it’s done,  it’s positively verdant. Barley may currently be golden in my book, but green is always good.  

Pearl barley risotto with greens

Serves 4, or 2 with leftovers for lunch the next day. NB, this will take about 45 minutes to cook.

Shopping/ foraging

200 grams of pearl barley
1 brown onion
250 grams of green vegetables, cut into small dice (beans, broccolini, zucchini)
Half a cup, or a hefty shake from the packet of frozen peas
100 ml of white wine
750 ml of stock (chicken or vegetable)
50 ml of milk or cream
Tablespoon of olive oil
Two tablespoons of pesto (make your own, buy from a deli, your call).


A heavy bottom casserole dish. A stock pot. A ladle. A spatula or wooden spoon.

Here’s how we roll

1. Put the stock in a stock pot to heat up.

2. Cut the brown onion into a small dice. Sauté that in the heavy bottom casserole dish with the olive oil for five minutes until it’s translucent. Add the pearl barley and stir it all around to mix and mingle. You want some of the olive oil and onions to coat the barley.

3. Add the white wine to the pan. Stir until the wine has reduced into the barley.

4. Add two ladles of the hot stock to the barley and onions. Stir around a little.

5. Chop all your vegetables into small pieces. You want them to be not much bigger than the barley grains.

6. Add the rest of the stock to the barley. Keep it on a medium heat and let it blurble away for around 25 minutes.

7. When the barley has puffed open and most of the stock has been reduced, add the milk or cream and the chopped vegetables. Stir around for 5 minutes until the vegetables have cooked and the milk or cream has absorbed and the risotto has a creamier consistency (NB, it won’t be as creamy as a risotto. You can add more butter or a whole whack of parmesan if you’re after maximum indulgence).

8. Add a tablespoon of pesto over the top of each serving. Season with extra salt and pepper if you think it needs it (it will depend on how much salt is in your stock). Eat on the couch with a big green salad on the coffee table to pick at afterwards- I like to add slivers of pear, some pumpkin seeds and some basil leaves to my salads when I’m eating something with pesto, but that’s just how I roll.

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