I have to confess to a certain humility about this dish. I kept on coming across so-called risottos in London made with all manner of grains, including barley. Intemperately I used to dismiss these as imposters. A risotto, I thundered, could only be made with rice, as the name suggested. Then, on a recent trip to the Restaurant Filipot in the Waldensian part of Piedmont, I was fed on a ‘orzotto’, a risotto made with barley and, in this case, quail and mild mushrooms. It was sublime, rich, delicate, profoundly flavoured, with a slightly malty note and that distinctive and, to barley lovers, addictive chewy resilience. Not long before I had an equally delectable pumpkin risotto in Venice. So I stuck the two together, and the family cried out for more. If you can’t find a pumpkin, use a butternut squash. The secret is not to use too much barley.
140g barley (ie, 35g per person)
2 litres stock (vegetable if you’re a vegetarian; chicken, quail or game if you’re not)
600g pumpkin or butternut squash flesh
30g grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper
Put the barley and stock in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Simmer gently until the barley is cooked – about 40 minutes.
Peel, deseed and chop up the pumpkin flesh into chunks. Put inside a roasting bag or bowl, and microwave for eight minutes at full power until soft (or cook in a saucepan with a little water and the butter, remembering to boil off the water; or roast until soft). Liquidise in a food processor, along with butter (if you’ve cooked the pumpkin in the microwave). Season to taste. Stir the pumpkin mush into the barley, season again, beat in Parmesan and serve.
Of course, you could add sautéed mushrooms to the finished dish, or shredded duck leg, as we did.