Barley Risotto with Fennel and Tomatoes

Updated: Jun 17, 2021


  • 2 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 brown onion, finely sliced

  • 3 cloves garlic , peeled and crushed

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 150g pearl barley

  • 750ml veg stock

  • 1 tbsp parmesan, grated

  • 1 fennel bulb , trimmed, halved and then sliced ¼ inch thick, fronds reserved

  • 200g cherry tomatoes , halved

  • 200g fresh spinach

  • Pinch of chilli flakes

  • 2 tbsp pine nuts

  • Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon


  1. Begin by melting half of the oil in a heavy based pan. Add the onion and garlic cloves with a pinch of salt, a turn of pepper, and the bay leaf. Cook over a moderate heat to get the onions started before turning down and cooking until very soft- around 20 minutes.

  2. Add the barley and toast the grains for 5 minutes. Then add half of the stock, along with the lemon zest, fennel, cherry tomatoes, and chilli flakes. Simmer gently until the stock has been absorbed, stirring from time to time.

  3. Add half of the remaining stock and continue to cook.

  4. While this is cooking make the fennel frond pesto by roughly chopping the fennel fronds in the center of a chopping board. Add the pine nuts, and parmesan and chop again until everything is fully integrated. Transfer to a small bowl and add 2 tbsp olive oil, a good squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

  5. Now test the texture of the barley grains- they should have a little chew but not be crunchy. Add the spinach and a little more stock if needs be- the mixture should be quite loose.

  6. After two or three minutes of cooking, remove the pan from the heat. Transfer the risotto into bowls and spoon over the fennel frond pesto, then top with shaved parmesan or crumbled feta.

  7. Serve with a scattering of salad leaves.

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