Barley Risotto with Zucchini

So, way back when, I promised to tell you about my barley risotto.  Once you get the hang of the risotto technique, it is easy to switch out different vegetables.  There are a few different grains that you can use as the base as well.  Traditional risotto uses Arborio rice which gives a nice creamy texture.  We use pearled barley most often.  Cooking it using the risotto method also yields a creamy dish, but with a bit more texture.  I have also used farro and short grain brown rice.  I've even made a wild rice risotto but that is a different sort of thing altogether.  The first time I tried a barley risotto was with asparagus from a recipe in Real Simple magazine from years ago.  Wonderful!  

I love to make a big pot of risotto in the evening with a glass of wine in hand and the radio on.  It's especially lovely when Neal takes the kids to the park or for a bike ride around the block and I have the house to myself.  Never has standing over the stove for 45 minutes been so relaxing!  Since the pot has to be minded I use the time in between stirring to make a green salad, set the table with my favorite dishes, and refill that glass of wine.

Barley Risotto with Zucchini

1/4 to 1/2 cup dry white wine (drinking quality)
7 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups pearled barley, uncooked
2 medium zucchini chopped into 1/2 to 3/4 inch cubes
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Add zucchini and saute until soft, but not mushy 5 to 10 minutes.  Remove zucchini to a bowl or plate and set aside.
Bring vegetable or chicken stock to a boil in a medium stock pot, then reduce heat to a low simmer.  Keep this on a burner near your larger pot for easy access.
Melt butter in the larger pot over medium heat.  (No need to wipe this out after cooking the zucchini.) Stir in onions and cook for 2 minutes, or until softened. Add the barley and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until lightly toasted. Pour in the white wine and stir continuously.  When most of the wine is absorbed, gradually ladle in 1 ladleful of simmering stock, stirring frequently until it is absorbed into the barley.  Continue to add stock, one ladleful at a time when most of the liquid is absorbed.  
Risotto will become "creamy" and slightly sticky, yet still firm in the center, or al dente.  
(This is usually somewhere around 30 to 40 minutes for me.)
When almost finished, stir in the zucchini adding stock as needed and stirring continuously. Stir in basil and 3 tablespoons cheese just before serving. Divide risotto among bowls, sprinkle with remaining cheese, and season with pepper to taste.

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