Asparagus and Leek Orzotto (pearl barley risotto)

Oh! Really, really don’t want to write anything. To the extent I’ve just had a look at how this post could look if I’d only kept the Oh! And, as if the Oh! was trying to tell me something so, too, was buying asparagus that wasn’t grown locally. I just couldn’t wait any longer! Knowing that I should. As the asparagus spears, regardless of looking quite thin and firm looking, just didn’t taste…of anything much. Hardly surprising as they’re imported from Mexico. Not that I’m having a go at Mexican farmers, I hasten to add! It’s the supermarkets storing vegetables for weeks on end. And then having the audacity of selling them as fresh! What a masquerade. Hoodwinked I was! Having written all that, and I ain’t for writing much more, this orzotto (pearl barley risotto) turned out to be one of the best vegetarian versions that I’ve made. Even though my favourite – by far – is still the chicken and bacon!

Asparagus and Leek Orzotto (pearl barley risotto)

INGREDIENTS:

PREP: about 30 mins + barley soaked overnight ~ COOK: about 40 mins (longer if barley isn’t soaked overnight) ~ READY IN: less than 1 hour

  • 100g (3.527 oz) x pearl barley, well rinsed and soaked overnight in plenty of cold water
  • up to 400g (14.11 oz) x leeks, white and pale green, sliced crossways and thoroughly rinsed
  • oil, for the leeks
  • minimum 1 x 125g (4.409 oz) pack thin (green) asparagus spears, snap each spear and where it gives determines the woody non edible part (root end) and what is edible – use woody parts in stock. Slice some of the edible stalk but keep the tips in tact
  • 500ml (16.91 fl oz) x cold water
  • 1 x organic vegetable stock cube
  • 1 x dried bay leaf
  • 1 x broccoli stem/stalk, well trimmed and split in half
  • snapped stems x asparagus (only add the tougher/woodier ends to the stock – and do not boil the stock)
  • olive oil, for the orzotto
  • 2 x parsley stalks/stems, keep leaves for serving
  • up to 1/4 x teaspoon cayenne pepper, add less, allow to infuse before adding more to personal taste
  • single/light cream + butter + semi-skimmed milk
  • mixture x salted nuts, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts and pecans used
  • lots of freshly snipped parsley leaves to serve

Measurements within brackets above are approximate only.

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Rinse the barley well under cold running water and soak in plenty of cold water to cover overnight. Following day rinse the barley well before using.
  • Put a heavy-based saucepan on electric heat No 3 out of 6. When hot and the leeks are prepared add a glug of oil, sunflower used. Scatter in the leeks, clamp on a lid and cook for 15 minutes, stirring through if necessary. After that time remove the lid just slightly and stir through more often. The leeks should be nicely soft within about 30 minutes, and don’t need to be caramelised. Take off heat.
  • Prepare the stock on heat No 3 with the water, stock cube, bay leaf, broccoli stalk, parsley stems and the woody ends of the asparagus – stock must not boil as otherwise there won’t be any flavour of the asparagus! All that’s needed is for the stock cube to dissolve.
  • Using a large heavy-based pan put on heat No 3 or 4. When hot pour in enough olive oil to coat its base. Add the rinsed barley and stir through often to get the grains evenly coated in oil. When beginning to catch a little, or turn colour (make sure they don’t turn brown) slightly start to add the stock a ladleful at a time, along with the bay leaf, parsley stems and broccoli pieces. The heat can be increased to No 4, as long as you stay with the pan! Stir through often making sure all of the grains are submerged. When almost all of the stock has been absorbed add another, and keep repeating this for about 20 minutes, reducing heat if necessary. After that time check a grain to test how well the barley is cooking. Continue to add more stock, start to add some single/light cream/butter and semi-skimmed milk (if less cream is wanted) and once that’s been absorbed test again to see if the barley is cooked. It should still have a bite to it, unlike risotto rice. But shouldn’t be chewy, especially if the barley was soaked overnight.
  • Put the pan with the leeks back on heat, adding a little more oil if necessary. Spread them to the sides and add the sliced stalks of the asparagus, along with the tips but keeping those on top. If the asparagus is quite thin they only need about 5 minutes to cook through so keep them on low heat, with the lid on but slightly askew.
  • Once the barley is cooked remove the bay leaf and broccoli pieces, discarding those. Sprinkle over the cayenne, using less and allowing that to infuse before adding more. If using salted nuts, like I did, then refrain from seasoning at this stage. Add the leeks and asparagus and stir through, keeping some of the asparagus tips for the top when serving.

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


59 comments

    • I’ve just recently bought a new brand of cayenne, which is by far the best I’ve ever had. It’s almost sweet smelling – in a musky sort of way. And thee most glorious orange/red. Yes, the asparagus were disappointing. But, this was one of the best veggie versions of my orzotti/risottos yet.

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  1. Beautiful dish, Johnny! I’m sorry your asparagus didn’t have much flavor. How disappointing! I bet you paid good money for it, too! I like that you used the broccoli stalk in the broth. My mom used to stir fry the stalk along with the florets and they were always my favorite part of the dish. 🙂

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  2. I think if you would have just wrote “Oh” and left it at that….well, that would have raised a lot of eyebrows and can you imagine the comments? There was a period of time when I would never buy produce from Mexico. Now, occasionally I do, however, I am a bit reluctant. Like you, not having a go at Mexico, just worried about the travel time and freshness. What a lovely recipe! I’m not familiar with orzotto, only orzo. I really like the salted mixed nuts in here. Lovely photograph, love the chive buds!

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    • So pleased you mentioned the chives as I forgot to! The reason why they’re there is because of the salad. I’ve just recently started buying cottage cheese with onions and chives, and it’s so good with salad! And chips (French fries) – only occasionally. 🙂
      My gripe is with the freshness of local veg in the supermarkets here. You just don’t know how long they’ve been in storage. And they might’ve been grown just miles away. But I don’t have the choice. Having said that, at least the locally grown stuff actually tastes of something. What I have noticed very recently is that certain veg are grown in differing African countries. Probably as it’s Winter. Are they much closer to home? And do I really have to buy jalapenos just for an omelette?! Yes! As I want to make it, photograph it and then blog about it tomorrow. Oh, the irony. I’ll blame it all on blogging, then!

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      • Ha! Jalapeños are a very important piece of the omelette puzzle. Amazing you are receiving certain vegetables from Africa! We see off season vegetables from Chile, Peru, Mexico and Canada.

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    • Well, I live on the coast not that far from London, UK and I reckon most of the best produce heads to the restaurants there. Anyway, must try asparagus with lemon when I get the chance of a really nice and tasty locally grown bunch of spears.

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    • This really should be served with hazelnuts, but where I normally buy them are out of stock. I’m so glad hazelnuts are out of season! Yes, at last warmer weather over here. So, I spied this pack of nuts in my local store. And the quality is very good. Really delicious with this. I suppose the barley itself is sort of nutty in flavour. And with a little butter this was a nice combination.

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  3. Looks delicious! Asparagus season isn’t quite here yet (in France out-of-season asparagus usually comes from Peru… I guess it would probably taste like your Mexican kind!), but I cannot wait for French (expensive) asparagus, as there are so many dishes I want to try. This is perfect for sunny and yet still chilly weather… it feels of spring, and is comforting at the same time.

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    • They’ve been selling British asparagus in M&S for several weeks. Presumably as it’s been so mild here all Winter. Normally it’s next month. Unfortunately, the closest store is within the shopping complex that takes hours to get to. Not really worth it for thin asparagus that’s three times the price! Yes, like you I really want to try other dishes with it. The problem is – if it’s a problem! – when it’s really good quality home-grown stuff I prefer it plain with just melted butter and black pepper. Just like sweetcorn in season.
      This is perfect for here right now as it’s only beginning to warm up. As I’ve just suggested I’d be loath to use the finer spears in something like this. Unless I was serving this as a small starter. With maybe just two or three spears p/p.

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  4. Great post Johnny. The risotto sounds and looks wonderful and the asparagus at least photographs well! Understand the temptation to buy foreign produce and then the disappointment. We’re in our fifth month of winter – still have snow on the ground and ice on the rivers and lakes. Not much chance of local asparagus here until May. Mexican avocados though = that’s a different story. They are amazing!

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    • There are four avocados ripening above my oven right now! Although, I don’t remember where they’ve been imported from. Looks like lots of healthy avocado salads for the next couple of days. 🙂
      The asparagus wasn’t so awful. It just tasted slightly duller than locally produced spears. Even though it’s not really seasonal as yet I bet most of the best quality spears make their way to tables within (salubrious) restaurants in London! I’ll be left with second best.

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    • Like I was last night – unusually! Few words. Apparently M&S are stocking asparagus already. £3 for British fine spears. Hmm, hoping it’ll be worth it. As I ain’t for racing off to the shopping complex any time soon. 🙂

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  5. Yes, when you are used to fresh, local asparagus, nothing else comes close – does it? Ironically, where we lived in the UK and where we live now in the U.S. are both asparagus growing areas. So, I wait eagerly for the season to start and then eat so much asparagus that I’m in danger of turning green. Oh well, the season will be here soon. And your recipe looks lovely 🙂

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    • Where I am in the SE I reckon most of the best produce ends up in restaurant kitchens in London! And the rest in restaurants here in Kent.
      I do like asparagus, but the really good quality spears I’m always loath to cook with. Apart from adding a little melted butter. They’re like sweetcorn in season for me, eaten with just butter – dripping everywhere! – and black pepper.

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  6. We’re pretty lucky over here. Our veggies come from all over and most of the time they taste pretty good, except maybe cucumbers and tomatoes. They can’t compare to my homegrown ones. Your dish looks fabulous, though, even if the asparagus is subpar. Probably the leeks and nuts more than make up for it?

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    • Nothing compares to home-grown toms! If only I had the space. I’ll just have to settle for my little herbs on the window sill.
      Yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly why there are quite a lot of leeks used in this. As they did help to balance out the disappointingly mild – to put it politely – flavour of the asparagus. Having said that, with flavoursome asparagus this probably needs as many leeks to help balance the flavours anyway. 🙂 Hope that makes sense.

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  7. What a beautiful recipe. I know what you mean about local! But you can’t very well stop cooking until the asparagus shows up. This looks delicious and creamy and wonderful. I’ll make it as spring springs. What an eye for photography you have!

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    • Yes, but I don’t need to cook asparagus out of its natural season. Because we’ve had such a mild winter British asparagus is on sale – at a price. Well, so I’ve read. My local stores aren’t selling it as yet. And I really don’t fancy that trek to the shopping centre. Not just for a bundle of asparagus spears!

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  8. I know what you meant. I’ve always put a lot of attention about my vegetable purchases. Buying the right vegetable in the right season it was my “mantra” at the supermarket. Moving from Italy to Canada, especially during winter, it has been a great shock… but sometimes we can bend the rules… do you agree?
    Anyway your orzotto looks amazing… and I’m sure with your ability you did great to make it super tasty!

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    • It’s possible to bend the rules, especially with using certain frozen products. Although, the only vegetable I like frozen is organic peas. The real problem I have, besides imported veg/fruit from way the other side of the globe, is how long the supermarkets have kept the veg in storage for. Regardless of where the veg come from. Unless you’re lucky enough to buy produce direct, as in farmers markets, you just don’t know how fresh veg and fruit are any more.
      The leeks in this dish kind of made up for the lack of taste of the asparagus. So it actually turned out okay. Should be even better when local asparagus is available. As we get cold spells right through April.

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  9. It’s obviously been too long since I was last here… when did you change your blog name? Is this Feed the Piglet or the sweet baking blog? Argh! I don’t like change! Anyway, despite my little tantrum, this is a gorgeous post. I love your impeccable photographs and that beautiful, beautiful orzo. Yum. Hope that you’re getting some warmer weather now J!

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    • Huh, you surprise me. Not with tantrums, though. As I can imagine yours are truly spectacular! Hehehe.
      Mine are!
      Yes, name change – long time overdue. And lots more changes on the cards. Just this weekend I decided on a new theme for Flours n Dainty Buns. And might use the same theme for this ‘un. They’re more ‘responsive’. So the blogs should be more suitable for Mac/android users.
      Weather has only recently changed. Really lovely and mild.
      Oh, and this is barley risotto. Not orzo, which is something I’ve never had.

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      • Orzo is the Italian word for barley, sorry that’s what I was referring to! We get imported Italian barley sold here that’s labelled as ‘Orzo’. I do think that the English package rice-shaped pasta as ‘Orzo’ but it’s named after the Italian word for barley. Have I just confused you?!
        I do like the name change, glad that you’ve found a theme that suits you better! Also very glad that you’re getting some warmer weather 🙂

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    • This is probably the first time to cook asparagus and leeks together. Can now understand why they’re two of your favourite things. And this was very tasty. Maybe I’m a pedant! But I was disappointed with the lack of flavour of the spears. There but just about detectable. That’s not how proper asparagus should taste. Looking forward to locally produced to test the difference. 🙂

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  10. I found your blog through fiesta Friday and just want to say I have had a little bit more of a look now, wow what a great foodie blog you have here, great recipes, I hope you don’t mind but I would like to scrapbook a few ie re blog to my scrapbook blog which I keep as my kinda recipe book and all things important I don’t want to lose on my main blog 🙂 Really lovely yummy different mouth watering foods x

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    • Scrapbook all you want to! I really don’t have a problem with people reblogging, unless they’re blatantly advertising – you know how it is on here. And thank you not only for asking but for your really nice comment. 🙂

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        • And that’s why they call it orzotto! Like I haven’t read that on Wiki umpteenth times. Some info just never drops into place. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂 Yes, was referring to the pasta. That I’ve yet to see for sale over here.
          Thanks re name change. And pleased with the theme chosen. Not so with all of the reformatting, resizing of photos and having to reload practically every photo! That’s painful. But I’m getting through it as it’s still a fairly small blog. Really don’t want to change themes for this ‘un here right now. Even though the new changes re uploading photos aren’t working on this one. Hmm, that’s when change isn’t necessarily a good thing.

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    • This was a good combination, even tough I think the leeks are cooked separately to get them sort of caramelised. Apart from that it should be fairly simple. It’s not really the weather for risotto, so it’ll be a couple of months yet before I start craving those again. 🙂

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    • It’s not really necessary to add the nuts as the asparagus tips should add enough textural interest. Should. But I remember only buying one pack, as they’re relatively expensive. The nuts used were more for bumping up the nutritional side of things. Besides, I tend to scatter nuts and seeds over almost everything savoury, especially salads. Just one of those things with not eating meat. Hey, you must be looking forward to spring! Hoping winter wasn’t too horrible.

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      • Yeah asparagus is expensive here as well. It was on special the other day and I’m kicking myself for not buying it!! I love nuts in salads… actually, I’m like you, I just love them in everything haha. Oh yes, I can’t wait for Spring! The weather hasn’t been too chilly so far. Although it’s pretty dreary outside at the moment 😦 You’ve had some cracking weather though! Makes me want to get on a plane…

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