Toasted Barley Risotto with Spinach and Herb Purée


The sun is out (it’s going to be nearly 70° today!), birds are singing, and it is supposed to snow on Monday. It is spring in Chicago—which looks a lot like winter in other places, with the occasional warm day. But after the winter we’ve had, I think we’ll take whatever we can get. Soon, our food will take a technicolor turn and I couldn’t be more excited.


I’ve been looking for my colors wherever I can get them, and this risotto is perfect for this in-between time. It’s a heartier version of risotto, but no less comforting. I will make it again in a few weeks when I can add some grilled asparagus to the mix. Asparagus!


Toasted Barley Risotto with Spinach and Herb Purée (from Bon Appetit)

  • 1 cup pearled, hulled, or hull-less barley
  • 8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (I used 4 cups of low-sodium broth ,mixed with 4 cups of water)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ bunch spinach, thick stems removed (about 2 cups)
  • ½ bunch flat-leaf parsley, thick stems removed (about 1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grated
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • ⅓ cup chopped chives

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toast barley on a rimmed baking sheet until light golden brown and fragrant, 8–10 minutes. Set aside.

Bring broth to a boil in large saucepan; reduce heat to low and keep broth warm. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add barley, thyme, bay leaf, and 2 cups warm broth to skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until broth is almost absorbed, about 5 minutes. Add remaining broth by ½-cupfuls, allowing it to be absorbed before adding more and stirring often, until barley is tender and mixture is creamy, 40–50 minutes (you may not use all the broth). Remove bay leaf.

Meanwhile, cook spinach and parsley in a large pot of boiling salted water until leaves are bright green and just wilted, about 5 seconds. Drain; transfer to a bowl of ice water and let cool. Drain and squeeze well to remove excess water.

Coarsely chop spinach and parsley, then purée with oil and a splash of water in a blender, adding more water as needed, until smooth. Set spinach purée aside.

Mix garlic, lemon zest, and lemon juice into barley mixture, then mix in Parmesan ¼-cupful at a time, stirring until melted and well combined before adding more. Mix in remaining 2 tbsp butter. Remove barley risotto from heat and mix in spinach purée and herbs; season with salt and pepper.

18 comments to “Toasted Barley Risotto with Spinach and Herb Purée”

  1. Greenest risotto ever! What a great way to cram as many spring vegetables as possible into your mouth. :)

  2. anna Costanzo says:

    April 11th, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    It looks delicious. I have a question and I hope you will answer. Do you think you can you substitute barley with faro with similar results?? Cheers and congratulations for your interesting

  3. I love the colour of this!!! So yummy!

  4. Hi Anna,
    Sure! It might take longer/shorter to cook, but it is worth trying. buon appetito!

  5. That color!!! Green? I think I remember green…. but winter in Chicago makes me forget there is any color but gradations of gray and grossness. I saw some chives coming up today and was so unreasonably joyful about it I had to check myself.

  6. This looks really tasty. I’m just curious, but what did you serve with it? Sometimes when the greens are already in the entree it’s a challenge for me.

  7. Stunning, stunning, stunning! P.S. Stunning.

  8. That’s a beautiful green…loaded with nutrients, too – should go fantastic with something like fish or chicken on the bbq (I’m in California and it’s 85 today).

  9. I’ve never heard of barley risotto, but it looks amazing! Love the bright green =)

  10. Oh dear. This looks and sounds delicious. I have to admit that I’ve never had barley, but I might even try it this week..! Great recipe!

  11. “Asparagus!” is right!

  12. Pearl barley is popular here in the UK and I have used it in chunky soups but this risotto sounds so good. The colour of spring and so tasty with the spinach and fresh lemon.

  13. Wow! I made a version of this a couple of weeks back but used a recipe from the Honestly Healthy cookbook which included roasted cherry tomatoes on top. It was divine! I will try your version soon to compare, but may add the tomatoes anyway. Thanks for another great recipe.

  14. schneiderluvsdoof says:

    April 17th, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Going to make this as soon as possible- it will bring spring!

  15. This spring twist on risotto looks so yummy-I’ll definitely have to try it. :)

  16. This looks so good, thanks for sharing it with us! And the mention of putting grilled asparagus on it, oh yeah!

  17. Golly, I love this color! I will make this with traditional risotto since the DH is gluten/wheat/barley intolerant. A fresh citrus-based salad would be a great partner to this dish!

  18. I tried this with faro last month when my BA issue came in the mail (i was in too much of a hurry to look for barley, and I had faro on hand) – such a great recipe!

What do you think?