RisottHo-Ho-Ho

Risotto Christmas
Pearl barley risotto with sprouts, chestnuts, squash and leeks

This risotto combines some of the best bits of Christmas eats. Minus the chocolates, mince pies, brandy butter and that lot, of course. But it does have chestnuts, squash, sprouts, lardons and a load of gloopy, comforting warmth to boot.

Naming credit: Jas at work. I had suggested ‘Festive Risotto’ but was promptly put in place. A more descriptive name would be ‘Pearl barley risotto with sprouts, chestnuts, squash, leeks, lardons and cheese’ but that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

A. kind of just made up the basis for this recipe last Christmas and I’ve since made a couple of amends. Having researched risotto recipes a little, this humble dish appears to be fraught with rules (dry fry the rice, gradually add the hot stock, stir in a load of butter and cheese at the very end etc.). Whilst my recipe picks up on lots of these points, I think you can be afford to be a little more relaxed about the whole thing if that’s your style. If it’s more convenient for you to pour all of the stock in at once, then leave the pot simmering on the hob whilst you do something else, that’s okay (sorry, risotto purists) – your dinner will still be super tasty if not conventionally put together.

Ingredients

  • 25g butter
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small squash (mine weighed about 750g when whole), diced into approximate 1 cm cubes
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 200g pearl barley
  • 800ml vegetable stock
  • 180g ready-to-eat chestnuts, chopped
  • 100g sprouts, rinsed and sliced
  • 100g leeks, washed and sliced
  • 80g good quality lardons
  • 75g mature cheddar cheese, grated 

Method

  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the finely chopped onion.
  2. Whilst the onion is frying off, prepare the squash by scooping out the seeds and stringy flesh with a large metal spoon and chop the squash into small cubes.
  3. Once the onion is softened but not browned, add the garlic and stir.
  4. Pop in the prepared squash and cook the whole lot until the squash is beginning to soften. This took about 20 minutes for my squash.
  5. Whilst the squash is cooking:
  • in a separate pan, fry off the lardons in their own fat until they’re sufficiently crispy, and
  • sweat the sprouts and leeks with a couple of knobs of butter in a lidded pan until they’re a bit done. By ‘a bit done’, I mean just take the edge off the out-the-ground crunch by sweating them for a few minutes. They should still be pretty fresh and have some bite.
  1. Once the squash is beginning to feel soft, stir in the rosemary and thyme and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add the pearl barley to the big pan and let everything cook without liquid for a few minutes.
  3. Make up the stock and add a ladleful or so to the big pan. When this is absorbed, add another ladleful. Repeat this process until the pearl barley is nicely plumped up. You may find you need a little less or a little more than the 800ml of stock that my risotto required. Keep taste-testing the texture of the pearl barley. If you think it’s nearly there (soft with a tiny bit of crunch in the centre), you may want to stop adding the stock and just let the whole thing simmer for a few minutes.
  4. When the pearl barley is ready and all of the stock is absorbed, chuck in the grated cheese, crispy lardons, chopped chestnuts and leeks and sprouts. Give the whole thing a good stir and serve.

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