If you can't find mascarpone, feel free to substitute creme fraiche, or even a bit of grated gruyere. You are after something to give the risotto that creamy body (which normally comes from the Arborio rice). Also, I call for a relatively modest amount of dried seaweed here, and nori itself is relatively mild in flavor, but if you think you want a more pronounced sea vegetable flavor - feel free to increase the amount to 1/2 ounce - or add it to taste. Also note that if you end up with leftovers, the flavor develops some overnight as well.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 medium shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2 cups lightly pearled barley or pearled farro
1 cup good-quality dry white wine
6 cups water or lightly-flavored vegetable broth
1 lemon, zest and some juice
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 ounce dried nori seaweed, toasted
1 1/2 cups finely chopped spinach
1 cup walnuts, toasted
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, then add the onion, shallots, garlic, and salt. Saute, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften a bit.
Add the barley to the pot and stir until coated with a nice sheen, then add the wine, and simmer for 3 or 4 minutes, until the barley has absorbed the liquid a bit. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle, active simmer.
In increments, add about 6 cups of water (or broth), 1 cup at a time, letting the barley absorb most of the liquid between additions. This should take around 40 minutes altogether - sometimes I only end up using 4 or 5 cups of water, it really depends. Stir regularly because you don't want the grains on the bottom to scorch. You will know when the barley is cooked because it won't offer up much resistance when chewing (it will be chewier than Arborio rice though). I like my risotto on the brothy side, so don't worry if there is a bit of unabsorbed liquid in the pot.
When the barley is tender remove from heat and stir in the lemon zest, mascarpone cheese, and most of the Parmesan. Then stir in the seaweed, and lastly the chopped spinach. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed, adding a bit of lemon juice too if needed. Serve topped with walnuts and the remaining Parmesan.
Easily serves 6+.
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