A fresh vegetable or fish* stock ( 2 Litres)
1 diced onion
generous splash of olive oil / rice bran oil / sunflower oil
1 1/2 C pearl barley ( bio or health stores usually stock it)
1/4 C grated pecorino* or parmesan for the risotto (optional)
Large handful of finely chopped Italian parsley
zest of one lemon
dollop of salted butter* (optional)
1 VERY large bag of spinach or other greens ( Kale, silverbeet, beetroot tops)
36 or so baby asparagus stems
6 strips of pancetta or streaky bacon*
long shavings of pecorino cheese (or parmesan)*
6 fillets of turbot ( or other firm white fish)*
White balsamic vinegar or lemon juice
good quality salt ( I use Himalayan) and fresh ground pepper
Heat your stock to a simmer. In a good heavy bottomed pan, saute gently your onion in oil until clear and soft. (I use bio sunflower or rice bran oil.) Turn your oven onto grill – you want it hot twenty minutes before serving.
Set aside. Wash spinach greens well, remove any long stalks, finely chop and set aside. Wash asparagus, sort in 6 bundles of six ( or so) and wrap each bundle with a pancetta strip around the centre of the stems. Place in oven tray, cover pancetta with shavings – give a light slosh of olive oil and season. Add 2 T of water to tray and set aside.
Prepare your fish, in a bowl add 2 T good olive oil, splash of white balsamic vinegar or lemon juice and season. Toss gently over fish.( You can add a scrunch of pink peppercorns if you fancy!)
Warm your onions again, adding the pearl barley and stirring for a few mins on a med/low heat.
Add stock one or two ladles at a time continuously stirring. THIS IS THE VITAL TRICK TO ANY GOOD RISOTTO! As your barley absorbs more stock, keep adding more when necessary and keep stirring.
A generous dollop of white wine is good here, but of course, optional.
Put your asparagus in the oven 2/3 way up – not at the top! check it every five mins – all ovens vary but mine takes about 10 mins.
Put frying pan on to heat for fish, adding a dash of frying oil. (I have ceramic pans, that are fantastic as they are non stick and require less oil than any other pans I’ve ever used.)
When your risotto is almost done, should be JUST a wee bit crunchy but soft as well – turn down and toss in lemon zest, parsley and grated pecorino.
Steam spinach or boil in a covered pan with an inch of boiling water. 4 mins. Drain, squeeze out excess water and add good grind of salt and pepper. (the butter if you wish and a good pinch of nutmeg is nice too.) Cover.
Asparagus should be tender, the cheese nicely grilled over the sizzling pancetta. If ready – cover with foil and set aside.
Keep stirring the barley risotto, add any more stock or hot water to keep it at a nice creamy consistency. Most recipes for risotto call for cream – I don’t use it in mine but go for it if you fancy!
Sear fish in fairly hot but not burning hot pan or grill pan, around 3-4 mins each side, depending on the thickness of your fish – turn only once!
To plate up, I put a generous dollop of barley risotto heaped in the centre of the plate, lay the fish on that, add a nice bed of spinach on your fillet and top with the asparagus bundle.
I think this needs no garnish, but you could drizzle lemon oil around your plate edge and sprinkle ground pink peppercorns over the oil if you fancy!
* I mostly believe, that many recipes can easily be adapted should the need arise or dietary requirements dictate. If you are a vegetarian omit the fish or replace it with grilled tofu or tempeh. Wrap the asparagus with a long slice of grilled aubergine. If you don’t eat dairy omit the butter and cheese and instead of grilled cheese over the asparagus, use sliced sun-dried tomato. You can add a couple of cloves of diced garlic to the pearl barley to give it some oomph if you are sad about losing the cheesy aspect!
Pearl barley is a healthier alternative to risotto rice – I’m becoming quite a fan.