Several of my recipes were created as a result of trying to come up some variation of another dish that my children will actually eat. This risotto is one of them and, quite honestly, one of my most successful attempts. I love your typical Risotto alla Milanese: rich, creamy and flavored with saffron. My mother also added mushrooms to her risotto and that was the only type of we ate at home. When I discovered that my daughter did not like the flavor of saffron I decided to try and modify my usual recipe. On the day that I came up with this risotto I happened to have bocconcini on hand in the refrigerator. It came to me that one of my children’s favorite dishes is a simple caprese salad: garden-ripe tomatoes combined with fresh mozzarella and basil. Simply perfect! So why not add these flavors to risotto? I prepared the risotto for the first time, using traditional Italian rice, and I held my breath. Success! Then again, who would not love a pesto infused dish dotted with little bites of bocconcini that turn into gooey stringy cheese as they melt into the rice? If you don’t have bocconcini in your neck of the woods, a good substitute would be fresh mozzarella.
After a while, I decided to change it up a little and I used barley instead of rice. I love the chewy texture that pot barley adds to the dish although it does take longer to cook, about 45 minutes. To be honest with you, pot barley is what I happened to have on hand so that’s what I used. If you prefer, you can stick to pearl barley which not only will take less long to cook, about 25 minutes, but will result in a less chewy and smoother texture. It will probably require less broth as well.
In case you were wondering what the difference between pot and pearl barley is, I did a little research that I’ll share with you. All barley goes through a pearling process whereby the inedible outer husk of the barley is removed. The pearling process is shorter for pot barley therefore it retains its bran layer as opposed to pearl barley which completely loses its bran layer. As a result, pot barley has a darker color and pearl barley is white.
If you decide to use pot barley and get fed up of adding ladle after ladle of broth and stirring, you can actually pour the hot broth into the barley and cook on low heat with the lid on until the barley is tender. I also used my homemade pesto which I frozen in small containers last summer but a good quality purchased pesto will do. Enjoy!
Bocconcini and Pesto Barley Risotto
- 8 cups chicken broth preferably homemade
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion diced
- 1 1/2 cups pot barley
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons basil pesto
- 1 container 200 g bocconcini, quartered (or fresh mozzarella)
- Freshly grated parmesan cheese for serving
- Place broth in a medium sauce pan and bring to a simmer.
- In a large dutch oven, heat oil on medium heat and sauté onion until translucent. Add barley and stir until it is coated with the oil and lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Pour in the wine and cook until it has evaporated. Stir in tomato paste until well combined.
- Begin adding hot broth to the barley mixture with a ladle, one scoop at a time, and stir. When the broth has been absorbed, continue adding broth, one ladle full at a time. Continue cooking until the barley is tender but still has some bite to it, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in pesto and bocconcini.
- Serve immediately with parmesan cheese at the table.