Barley Risotto with Corn, Cherry Tomatoes & Basil Oil
Hello, friends. I know—it has simply been too long. An inexcusably long absence. But this summer has been filled with weddings. And travel. And work. Much too much of that last one, if you ask me. Like working until the wee hours of the morning too much. Or working every weekend that I haven’t been out of town too much. The result? Absolutely no free time for this little blog. But I’m hoping to put an end to my neglect now, although work promises to keep me way too busy through the end of the year… fingers crossed that it will be manageable.
How was your summer? I know that summer is pretty much over everywhere. But summer has arrived in San Francisco. Finally. We had the worst summer this year, weather-wise. Some summer fog is typical in San Francisco. But this year? July and August were filled days, and days, and days of fog. And mist. And wind. It was pretty miserable. By mid-August, I was wondering if we’d ever see the sun. By early-September? I was pretty sure we’d be stuck in a fog bank for eternity.
But over the past couple weeks, the sun has slowly but surely been making more regular appearances. And this past weekend our San Francisco summer arrived, at long last. Warm, sunny days in the high 70s and low 80s. It was simply wonderful. And the trend is supposed to continue. Fingers crossed that our dilatory summer lasts long into October and November, maybe even December. I know, San Francisco weather is weird.
So while summer has only just arrived in San Francisco, weather-wise, it thankfully arrived somewhat sooner in the produce section of our grocery store. Thank goodness. It’s wonderful to have fresh corn, heirloom tomatoes, and basil that actually looks like, well, basil. Not to mention peaches, cherries, apricots, etc. I’m hoping that this too lasts for as long as possible…
This dish takes advantage of some of the season’s best ingredients, and is pure summer—light, fresh, and flavorful. It’s filled with fresh white corn and cherry tomatoes, all incorporated into a simple barley “risotto,” topped with a chives and a homemade basil oil. Simple, but delicious. And one of the best new recipes that I’ve made in recent memory. I know it’s quickly becoming autumn pretty much everywhere else, but this dish is a last gasp celebration of summer, or an inaugural summer dish, as the case may be…
Oh, and don’t skip the basil oil. It’s pretty incredible, and pulls the whole dish together—plus, it’s super simple to make, and you’ll have leftovers to use on other summer-inspired dishes. I’ll be posting a recipe with those leftovers soon… stay tuned!
BARLEY RISOTTO WITH CORN, CHERRY TOMATOES & BASIL OIL
For the barley risotto:
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cups pearled barley
1 cup dry white wine
6 cups chicken or mild vegetable broth (approximate—the exact amount that you end up using will vary depending on your grains)
3 ears of corn (I used white corn), kernels removed
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons crème fraiche
1/2 cup grated parmesan
fresh chives, for garnish (optional)
salt & pepper
For the basil oil:
1 bunch fresh basil
1 cup olive oil
Warm the chicken or vegetable broth in a saucepan over low-medium heat.
Meanwhile, heat a couple splashes of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion, along with a couple pinches of salt and a couple grinds of fresh pepper, and sauté until soft and translucent—about 3-5 minutes. Next, add the pearl barley to the pan, and cook together for 1-2 minutes (see photo). Add the white wine, and cook until absorbed—about 3 minutes.
Now you’re ready to start adding the warm broth: add one ladle of broth and cook (stirring frequently) until absorbed. Repeat-for about 30-40 minutes—until the pearl barley is cooked. The barley should be soft and chewy, with a slight bite to it.
Meanwhile, make the basil oil. Puree the basil leaves in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Add 1 cup of olive oil in a steady stream, while the food processor is running, and process until everything is combined. Heat the mixture in a sauce pan over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 1 minute, then remove from heat and strain through a fine mesh sieve. Set aside.*
When the pearl barley is just a minute or two shy of done, add the corn kernels and cherry tomatoes to the pan, and cook for about 3 minutes—until the barley is cooked and tomatoes are just beginning to break down. Remove from heat, and stir in the lemon zest, crème fraiche, and parmesan. The crème fraiche and parmesan will add the touch of creaminess that you would expect from a traditional, arborio rice risotto, and the lemon zest will brighten the whole dish. Season with salt and pepper (to taste).
Divide the risotto among bowls, and top with fresh chives, a little grated parmesan, and a generous drizzle of the basil oil. Enjoy!
* Store whatever basil you don’t use in jar; it will keep in a cool, dry place for at least a week.