Who knew that pearl barley risotto was in fact orzotto. I’d heard of pearl barley being cooked like a risotto. It wasn’t until I went online to check for a recipe that I found out that orzotto comes from Northeastern Italy, a speciality of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region that includes the rather beautiful city of Trieste (photos below). I visited the city several years ago, including a town called Udine with the only Venetian Palace, Loggia del Lionello, outside of Venice itself. And yet, I don’t remember noticing orzotto on any menu.

Okay, I was only travelling through for three days en route to Slovenia. Still, bit of a shame I didn’t sample one of their specialities. What I did order one afternoon I should’ve sent back. How is it possible to get a vegetable soup so wrong? Not only was it sloppy, with veg outrageously overcooked, it had been made without stock! If I’d wanted an aquacotta I would’ve backtracked to Tuscany! Anyway, I digress. As the risotto for the previous post turned out so well, and as I’ve never been that keen on them before, I decided to try this Chicken and Leek Pearl Barley Orzotto. Admittedly I couldn’t find the combination of chicken and leeks online. And, I guess it’s being fairly safe. Besides that the flavours are also very British. Growing up I used to love Scotch broth, with lots of pearl barley and big, fat mushy marrowfat peas. To the extent I might try a marrowfat pea and bacon version of this next week – yes, I’m still trying to use up dried ingredients in my cupboard.

Unlike a risotto this is slightly easier as it’s not really possible to overcook the pearl barley – you would have to cook it for an hour or more. However, it does take about 50 minutes. I upped the heat a little to No 4 (instead of 3 that I used for the risotto) and stayed in the kitchen (like I did when cooking the risotto) to start some much needed spring cleaning – with the fridge! My least favourite to clean. Because of that I was able to keep an eye on the levels of stock needed. Like the risotto the only way of knowing if the barley is cooked is to keep testing until there’s no bite left. With mine I used all of the stock and cream mentioned below. That won’t necessarily be the case. Of course, you could cheat with this and use shop-bought chicken stock. The flavour will suffer, though. It only takes me about 20 minutes to prep a stock (and about an hour to cook it), and about half that time is spent on removing the skin and any excess fat off the chicken pieces. There’s nothing simpler to do. I prep the stock the night before, skim off any fat that’s on the surface the following day and remove the chicken pieces and set aside. All that’s left to do is to strain the stock.

Chicken and Leek Pearl Barley Orzotto, or risotto with chicken, leeks and bacon bits

  • Servings: 2 - 3 or 4 as a starter
  • Print


  1. 2 x medium carrots 200g (7.05 oz), peeled and roughly chopped
  2. 1 x medium onion, peeled, halved and cut into wedges
  3. 2 x celery stalks, washed and roughly chopped OR 1 x stalk broccoli, trimmed and cut in half lengthways
  4. green part of leek/s, thoroughly washed and trimmed
  5. 2 x dried bay leaves, ripped
  6. 3 x small stems of fresh thyme
  7. 10 x juniper berries OR 10 x whole black peppercorns
  8. 1/4 x teaspoon red pepper flakes, more to personal taste
  9. 500g (17.63 oz) x free range chicken pieces (I used thighs), skin and excess fat removed and discarded
  10. 1 x organic vegetable stock cube
  11. 500ml (1.05 pt US Liq) x cold water
  • olive oil
  • 100g (3.52 oz) x pearl barley, well rinsed
  • 300 – 400g (10.58 oz) x white and pale green parts of leeks, sliced crossways into 5cm (2 inch) pieces, each piece sliced in half lengthways, then sliced in 1cm (0.39 in) strips. Thoroughly washed
  • 600ml (1.26 pt US Liq) x chicken stock (less if cooking risotto)
  • 120ml (0.25 pt US Liq) x single/light cream (less if cooking risotto)
  • 3 – 4 x rashers streak bacon, pan-fried until crisp and when cool enough broken into bits
  • butter, amount used to personal choice
  • seasoning, both freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, to serve
  • freshly chopped parsley, to serve – optional
  • Castello Reserve Herrgård cheese or Grana Padano or your favourite Parmigiano-Reggiano – all freshly shaved or grated

Measurements within brackets above are approximate only.


If there’s a secret to cooking a risotto or orzotto my guess would be: Do no leave the pan! Stay with it at all times otherwise you could end up with scorched uncooked barley or, with the rice, something that resembles porridge. What I would suggest is that you start with the barley first (after preparing the stock), prep the other veg and stuff and cook them separately. That way you will have far more control over how the overall taste of the dish will be.

For the stock:

  • Add the 10 numbered ingredients to a large heavy-based saucepan and put on electric heat No 4 (out of 6) with a lid and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to No 2 and simmer for 30 minutes. Take off heat and allow to cool, and if storing overnight place into a suitable container and keep the stock in the fridge. I usually store the chicken separately. The following day I remove any excess fat off the surface and strain through a colander, discarding the vegetables but retaining one of the bay leaves.

For the orzotto/risotto:

  • To cook the risotto use the same ingredients as above, with the addition of bacon if using. The amount of stock and cream used will vary accordingly. However, the instructions are exactly the same. Risotto will cook considerably quicker so stay with the pan at all times, and only add stock if and when needed. That way it’s possible to cook your risotto to personal taste, without it swimming in unnecessary stock/cream and without being overcooked.
  • Put a large heavy-based saucepan or wide pan on heat with enough olive oil to coat it’s base. Initially set heat to electric No 2 (out of 6) to heat the oil through. After rinsing the barley add to the pan, stir a little and up the heat to No 3. Cook for about 5 minutes, which is enough time to coat the barley thoroughly.
  • Add the bay leaf, fresh thyme and a ladle of the stock by pouring it through a fine wire metal sieve and allow that to be almost absorbed before adding a further ladle. Up the heat to No 4 and keep repeating this until about half of the stock has been used. Then, add stock and cream together, each time stirring through. Do not allow the stock to be completely absorbed each time as then the barley will start to stick to the base of pan.
  • In the meantime add the leeks to a heavy-based pan with a little oil. Put on heat No 2 and allow to settle. Stir through occasionally to prevent scorching. Allow at least 20 minutes for the leeks to take on a little colour.
  • Remove all of the meat from the chicken pieces and set aside. With about 10 minutes of cooking time left remove the leeks from their pan and set aside. Using the same pan pour in a little more oil, add the sliced garlic clove and chicken meat. Put on heat No 2 or 3 and allow to settle, though shake the pan occasionally. When the chicken starts to colour squeeze the thin wedge of lemon over and stir through.
  • When the barley is fully cooked to your liking, and the only way to test it is by biting on an individual grain, add the leeks and stir thoroughly. Keep on heat for several minutes to make sure they are hot enough to serve. Add the chicken without the garlic clove and bay leaf. Grate lots of cheese on top and enjoy!


Trieste, Italy. Trieste City Hall within Piazza Unità d'Italia.

Photo above is of Trieste City Hall within Piazza Unità d’Italia. Apparently, this is Europe’s largest square located next to the sea.

Trieste, Italy. The Government Palace within Piazza Unità d'Italia.

The Government Palace within Piazza Unità d’Italia.

Trieste, Italy. Cattedrale di San Giusto.

Side elevation of Cattedrale di San Giusto (14th century and earlier) with Roman remains of a Temple in the foreground.

Udine, Italy. Piazza della Libertà, Loggia di San Giovanni and the Torre dell’Orologio.

Udine, Piazza della Libertà, 16th century Loggia di San Giovanni and the Torre dell’Orologio.

Udine, Italy. Piazza della Libertà.

Piazza della Libertà from within the town hall (Loggia del Lionello) built in 1448–1457 in the Venetian-Gothic style.

Udine, Italy. Piazza San Giacomo.

Piazza San Giacomo, where I managed to shelter at a café from an incredibly localised and heavy thunderstorm.

All photographs within (Todas las fotografías dentro de) Kitschnflavours:
All rights reserved (© Todos los derechos reservados) – Copyright © Johnny H Hepburn


  1. Wow! Great post both on the recipe and the wonderful Italian city of Trieste. The funny thing is that outside Italy, I used to think of Italian cuisine in terms of pizzas and pasta which is completely incorrect. When we went to Tuscany for holidays, pizzas and pasta hardly figured in our meals as we discovered so many interesting and very delicious Italian dishes. 😉


    • You’re absolutely right. And yet, the only place I ever buy pizza, especially takeaway slices, is in Italy! They just do them so well. Even in Venice, before travelling further north, I had to grab a slice, get as far as possible from the other tourists and munch. Delicious!


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