I have quite a few 'base' recipes that I use time after time after time. By 'base' I mean that in their simplest form they are delicious, and well loved by friends and family who drop by. They serve six, or 10; are easy to prepare and even easier to serve up.
These same recipes, scaled up, also form the basis of a lot of my wedding menus; herbed and spiced; zapped with seasonal flavours. Pearl barley risotto is one of those recipes. I first came across it in Shirley Spear's fabulous Three Chimneys cookbook, and I have used it over and over again. Shirley's recipe combines the pearl barley with red wine, orange, leeks and raisins and a family-sized portion takes only 20 minutes or so to rustle up. To this base, I vary the herbs and the spicing a lot.
For this weekend's wedding, which is a lovely high tea lunch followed by an evening barbeque, I'm serving the pearly barley risotto as a salad dish with a 6kg bbq'd salmon. So I've added a huge handful of lemon thyme (one of my favourite herbs) and some lemon zest and some chopped fennel. For the quantity I need for 80 portions, it's taken about an hour to simmer to that 'just crunchy' level. The flavours will now deepen as it chills and by Saturday it will be as delicious as it's possible to be.
200g pearl barley
1tbsp olive oil
1 leek, finely chopped
1/2 bulb fennel, finely chopped
zest of 2 small oranges
700ml red wine/freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tsp lemon thyme, finely chopped
50ml hot vegetable stock
Saute the leek and the fennel in olive oil then add the pearl barley. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer, cover and cook until the pearl barley is al dente. The pearl barley should have puffed up quite a lot, and add more liquid during this phase, if you think it needs it.
This risotto will keep warm nicely for up to an hour, or can be chilled and re-heated, or served cold. Chuck on more chopped lemon thyme for garnish.