Barley and Me

This Friday I’m flying home to Bryn Mawr for a couple of weeks. There are so many amazing memories I associate with my home, particularly surrounding weekend meals. It begins at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning to prepare for the upcoming 36 hours of culinary bliss. Depending on the time of year, dinner could be a rich bowl of boeuf bourguignon, a divine plate of chicken parmesan, or a simple swordfish steak with risotto on the side. The risotto has always been my absolute favorite – the absolute crème de la crème. Swordfish and risotto season is the best. It is the time of year when a crisp glass of white wine hits the spot. It is the time of year when I can sit on my back patio, reading, while my dog lovingly lays by my side in the summer breeze.

Like the naughty but lovable title character of John Grogan’s Marley and Me, a dog can provide such comfort. Though they do require a heaping amount of tender loving care, like the delicate grains of a perfect risotto, the reward is worth it. At times a bit temperamental, riled up pups and heat sensitive risottos can be alleviated with some gentle affection.

I can’t wait for four days from now; there is nothing like the comfort of a bowl of my father’s risotto and my dog lying at my feet.

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Lemon Parmesan Risotto:

1 cup pearl barley

1 onion

1/2 cup white wine

~3 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 cup Parmesan cheese

Juice of 2 lemons

Parsley to garnish

1 tbsp olive oil

6 strips bacon (optional)

 Instruction:

1. Heat olive oil in saucepan over medium heat. Sweat onions until soft and translucent. Add barley and sauté until it turns translucent. (Another trick for sautéing the barley is to listen until you hear it “crying.”) Add white wine and stir, allowing barley to absorb the moisture.

2. About 1/2 cup at a time, incorporate chicken stock. After each addition, allow the barley to absorb the liquid on a gentle simmer. After 3 cups of stock have been added, try a barley grain. If still relatively crunchy, continue to add liquid. If al dente but bouncy, barley is ready.

3. When barley is ready, squeeze lemon juice into saucepan; stir. Turn off heat and add Parmesan, stirring to let the residual heat melt the cheese.

4. Optional: form bacon strips into disks using muffin tin and slightly smaller (oven safe) cookie cutter. Cook bacon at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes; until crispy. Fill bacon disks with barley; garnish with parsley and Parmesan shavings.

Enjoy barley risotto with John Grogan’s Marley and Me, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

A Farewell to Parms

For the first ten years of my life, my family lived in a quaint house on a quiet street – Rosedale Avenue. The downstairs did not have doors; instead, the complete circle of living room, den, kitchen, and dining room was divided by open doorways. Every Saturday night, my father would make some elaborate dish – often chicken parmesan. As Andrea Bocelli or another Italian divo crooned, smells of garlic, bay leaf, and a happily simmering tomato sauce would drift throughout the downstairs rooms. My mother made a similarly divine eggplant parmesan every once in a while, incorporating the same ingredients in a vegetarian option.

I absolutely adored my parents’ respective “Parmesan” recipes, but often bemoaned the hour at which they were finally served. After cooking out the sauce to perfection, breading the chicken and shallow frying it, melting the cheese under the broiler, and assembling the various elements, Saturday night dinner often did not begin before a spouse grew hungry, daughters cranky, and chef positively exhausted.

Like Ernest Hemingway’s writing style, this recipe takes the essential flavors and leaves out all things superfluous. It is minimalistic but still complete and complex. With only five basic ingredients, this ratatouille (and it’s very own cheesy carrying case) is still vibrant, colorful, and satisfying. As Hemingway used the omission technique to describe the relationship between Frederic and Catherine in A Farewell to Arms, this vegetable parmesan marries very few flavors (but encompasses all that is necessary to achieving the warm Italian dish).

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Ratatouille-Filled Parmesan Baskets

1/2 aubergine (eggplant)

1 courgette (zucchini)

1 red pepper

1 tbsp tomato paste

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Chives to garnish

Instruction:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grate a thin layer of parmesan cheese onto parchment paper (into a disk shape). Melt in oven, remove after about 4 minutes, immediately mold into small basket shape using espresso cup or shot glass. Let molded parmesan rest in dry, cool place until set.

2. Chop aubergine, pepper, and courgette into tiny cubes. Cook in olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Finish by binding all vegetables in tomato paste. Season with salt.

3. Let ratatouille cool. Serve in cooled Parmesan basket. Garnish with chives.

Enjoy vegetable parmesan with Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, and check in at warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!