Tuesday, April 5, 2011
This is one of those meals that comes out of doldrums and cabinets. Call it April Showers Risotto. It was made on a recent gray night, when the only bright bulbs were a handful of kumquats on my kitchen counter and a few slack carrots in the crisper. Rainbow-colored carrots, thank gawd.
Madame Fromage had spent the day engaged in listless electronica, answering long-lost emails and staring out the window for ships, mascara from the night before raining under her eyes. You know those days. The catch-up days, the days of feeling caught in between -- between moods and seasons and weather patterns.
Then this sunny voice commanded me forward and said: dig around in the back of the fridge, root around in the cupboards, go to work, Madame Fromage. Get your fingers busy and make the most of the dregs! And so I opened the Chardonnay I'd scowled at for weeks, and I hauled out the bag of barley I had never opened, and I grabbed a handful of this-n-that. I threw it all into a dinged-up pot, and a phoenix emerged.
Let it be known that I fear risotto. I only eat it in restaurants. Recipes for it intimidate me, and so this is not a real risotto but a false risotto -- let there be no pretenses. It could also be called carrots-and-kumquats-boiled-with-grain-into-manna.
Let there be...gold.
The crucial elements here are: good carrots, barley, something in the orange family (zest will do), decent stock, toasted nuts and drop-dead feta. Otherwise, improvise! Go to your cupboards, and matchmake. This is a forgiving enterprise.
Barley Risotto with Kumquats and Feta
1 cup dry barley
3 cups stock (I used packaged organic chicken broth)
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
1 teaspoon rosemary
1/2 cup dried cranberries
6 kumquats, sliced into rounds
1 large onion, diced
1 cup carrots, diced or sliced
Toasted slivered almonds
Feta to sprinkle on top
Get out a nice big saucepan that has a lid and toast the barley in a little oil. By toast, I mean, crank up the heat on the oil, then toss in the dry barley, and let it brown a little -- no more than 10 minutes. Then add the stock, wine, rosemary, dried cranberries, and kumquat slices. Bring to a boil, then turn it to low and cover. It will need 1 hour under wraps.
While barley mixture is cooking, saute onion. Add this to barley, along with carrots, after about 45 minutes, so that carrots cook but remain tender, nut mushy. Taste barley for doneness, then dish into bowls and top with feta and toasted almonds.