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Spring Barley Risotto with Asparagus and Lemon

Barley Risotto for Spring with Asparagus and Lemon

I love the consistency of risotto but am always looking for a way to incorporate more nutrition into a recipe. The natural starch of the barley grain adds creaminess to this dish. The use of saffron mimics the classic risotto Milanese which some connect to the Venetian Jewish community.

  • Duration
  • Cook Time
  • Prep Time
  • 4 ServingsServings


  • 2 ¾ cups vegetable broth or water and 1 Telma vegetable bouillon cube
  • 1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, slightly crumbled
  • 10 asparagus, tough ends removed
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced into ¼ inch dice
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 cup pearled barley
  • ½ cup white wine, Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
  • 15 grindings of black pepper, or to taste
  • Finely grated zest from ½ lemon (about 1 teaspoon)
  • ½- ¾ cup grated fresh Parrano or Parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional
  • ¼ cup toasted, slivered almonds (1 Tablespoon removed for garnish)


  1. Combine the broth and the crushed saffron threads in a 1 quart pot and bring to a simmer.
  2. Meanwhile, remove the tough ends of the asparagus, wash, and cut the stalks on the diagonal into ½ inch pieces reserving 1 ½ inches of the tip.
  3. When liquid is simmering drop in the asparagus stalk pieces and blanch for 2 minutes until bright green and slightly tender.  Remove with a slotted spoon to a small glass bowl. Add the tips to the simmering broth and cook for 1 minute.  Remove from broth and set aside.  Keep broth warm while you prepare the barley.
  4. Heat a three quart saucepan over high heat for 10 seconds.  Add the extra virgin olive oil and heat for 10 seconds.  Add the onion and garlic and reduce heat to medium.  Sauté mixture until onions are slightly golden but do not let garlic burn.
  5. Add the barley and stir to coat with the onion mixture and oil.
  6. Add the wine and stir constantly until the wine is absorbed.  Add all of the simmering broth, stir, and then cover and reduce heat to low.  Stir the barley mixture every 5 minutes or so to prevent sticking and burning.  If all the liquid has been absorbed and the barley appears too hard and/or dry, then add another ¼ cup of water and cook for another 5 minutes.  The barley will be firm,  but tender after 30-35 minutes.
  7. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the salt, pepper and lemon zest until well combined.
  8. Gently combine the grated cheese into the mixture and when evenly distributed and melted add the almonds and the reserved asparagus pieces (MINUS 5 asparagus tips for garnish).
  9. Immediately serve the barley risotto in a nice dish garnished with the reserved tablespoon of almonds and the 5 remaining asparagus tips.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • The “pearling” of the barley grain exposes its starchy interior to the liquid and creates the creamy consistency of this dish
  • Parrano cheese is similar to a gouda cheese in consistency but has the sharp tang of a Parmesan Reggiano; either can be used
  • If you want an even richer consistency, add 1-2 tablespoons of unsalted butter to this or any hot barley dish
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