Asparagus & cheddar cheese pearl barley risotto

Asparagus & cheddar cheese pearl barley risotto

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Today has been one of the craziest of my life. I’m a little reluctant to start bringing other life issues into this blog, but what happened to me rocked my world and I’d not be being honest to myself or to you by avoiding the subject.

Yesterday morning I went to work as normal – on my bike, with sunny spring in the air, looking forward to the design work ahead, planning what I’d be eating for lunch and dinner. Normal. But then, a couple of hours before I was due to come home (with a plan to make this recipe here), I was called into a surprise meeting and made redundant, effective immediately. That’s dinner out the window then! So today I packed up my desk, crammed all of my work onto hard drives and left, for ever. Wow.
I’m feeling positive though, despite the fact that I was initially absolutely devastated. I’m one of those rare individuals who utterly loves their job, and it’s the second time I’ve been made redundant in as many years. Just as I was starting to settle in…

I know I’ll find something else, and on the positive side, I am ‘free’ to dedicate a little bit of time to thinking about what it is I really want to do, and maybe even bake a few cakes in the process. So tonight, with my big box of sketchbooks, magazines and hard drives in hand, I picked up the final few ingredients I needed to make the recipe I’d initially wanted to concoct the previous night (I ended up with a sad supermarket low-cal egg sandwich after a few hours in the pub).

At times like this you realise what’s important to you and I think I must have subconsciously picked a dish based on an ingredient that I’ve named this blog in honour of. I enjoy writing and sharing recipes so much. I look forward to blogging immensely, and I know that no matter how skint or desperate I get before I find another job, I’ll gain a great deal of happiness and comfort through continuing to cook and write about it. It’s a great creative outlet for me.

Right, now enough about that and onto the recipe!
I love pearly barley. I’ve previously posted a recipe for a courgette and lemon barley risotto, or ‘barlotto’ as I like to think of it. I think it has a fantastic texture and makes risotto-style dishes a whole lot more interesting. It’s especially fantastic with veggie pairings, I reckon. So, for this one, I chose a lovely English mix of mature cheddar cheese and lovely in-season asparagus. Stirring in butter and cheese makes this incredibly indulgent. It tastes naughty, but is actually ‘nice’ and pretty healthy – surely I’ve already sold it to you at this point!?

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You will need:

3 shallots, peeled and diced
10-12 spears of asparagus
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
300g pearl barley
3-4 handfuls of fresh spinach leaves
1 cup of dry white wine
approx 800ml chicken stock
knob of butter
75g mature cheddar cheese
the juice of 1/4 lemon
handful of flat leaf parsley
1/2 tspn wholegrain mustard
2 tbpns pine nuts, toasted
salt, pepper
olive oil

Method:

1 – Prepare the asparagus by snapping off the thick stalk ends where they naturally break; now cut the spears in half so that you are left with the fluffy delicate head and a woodier, thicker base
2 – Slice the thicker base end into small round and slice the heads in half diagonally
3 – Heat some oil in a large deep frying pan and add the shallots and asparagus rounds; cook gently
4 – Once softened slightly but not browned, stir in the garlic; cook for a minute before tipping in the pearl barley and wine
5 – Cook the barley as you would a risotto; wait for the wine to burn off, stirring the grains continuously and then adding stock gradually, as needed
6 – Once the barley has been cooking like this for around 8 minutes, start stirring in your spinach leaves; you’ll need to do this in batches to allow for it to wilt
7 – Season and taste test the barley after about 12-15 minutes; it’s cooked when it’s got a little bite, like perfectly cooked al dente pasta
8 – Just before serving, stir in the butter, lemon juice, mustard, parsley and cheese, plus any extra stock needed to give the risotto the perfect moist creaminess
9 – Serve topped with toasted pine nuts and with a scattering of rocket leaves and avocado drizzled in lemon juice

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