While true risottos are made with rice, the chewy kernels of pearled barley with their creamy exteriors make an excellent substitute. The outer hulls of pearled barley have been removed, allowing each grain to release surface starch as it cooks, which results in a silky sauce.
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sliced and well-rinsed leeks*
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 cup pearled barley
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a small saucepan, bring the stock, thyme, and saffron to a boil. Cover and set aside.
Warm the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the leeks and garlic and sauté on medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the barley and toss to coat it with oil. Add the wine and cook, stirring often, until the wine is absorbed.
Add the hot stock and bring to a boil; then cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook the barley, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until the stock is absorbed and the barley is al dente, about 30-35 minutes. Add a little more stock or water if the barley is too chewy for your taste. Add the salt and 1/4 cup of Parmesan and stir until the cheese melts.
Serve at once, passing more cheese at the table, if desired.
*Use the white and tenderest green parts of the leeks only.
As prepared, each serving contains 353 calories, 10.4g total fat, 6.7mg cholesterol, 566.2mg sodium, 52.2g total carbohydrate and 10g protein.