Traditional risotto is a dish that needs a bit of dedication and can be a labor of love to prepare. It’s the epitome of a classic Italian meal made with arborio rice and a broth, and cooked slowly until creamy but slightly al dente; each grain separate lending itself to a pleasing bite. It’s a wonderfully comforting food that can be served family style or on elegant plates for a romantic meal for two. Simply presented or made with added vegetables, meats, fish or seafood – it’s versatile and the list of herbs, spices and seasoning that can be tossed in are endless. This classic dish has evolved and you can find risotto recipes listing grains other than arborio rice as the main ingredient. On the menu, a tomato and garlic barley risotto that’s heart-healthy and easier to prepare than the traditional version. “Unlike the proper Italian risotto, [this] does not require the exact precision and meticulous preparation, but still tastes sensational.” -Chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi in Jerusalem: A Cookbook.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s barley, tomato and garlic risotto recipe is slightly different than the one noted in his cookbook, but either are delicious and make a worthy dinner. The cookbook allows you to travel with your taste buds and enjoy a culinary tour of both old and new Jerusalem. Risotto is as noted a traditional Italian dish, but the barley and spices found in this recipe gives it a Mediterranean and Middle East flair and is reflective of Ottolenghi’s creativity in the kitchen. Dinner wouldn’t be complete without wine, so I reached out to my friend Fred Swan, a Northern California-based wine writer and certified Sommelier to collaborate on wine pairings for this risotto recipe.
Undoubtedly it’s easier to pair wine with the flavors of more traditional risottos, but we were up for the challenge. In this recipe, the paprika left us pondering what bottle to open, and as Swan noted, “the combination of spice and tomato can be a challenge, especially when there isn’t a lot of meat to provide a counterpoint”. Both Swan and I came up with a Ridge Zinfandel as an option to consider. His expertise weighed in to offer a number of varietals and wines to explore.
Gewürztraminer – Spicy with just a touch of sweetness, it’s a versatile white wine for spicy dishes. Try the Castello di Amorosa Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley.
Albariño or Alsatian Pinot Gris are additional white wine varietals to try.
Barbera – A fruity Italian red grape that happily co-exists with dishes including cooked tomatoes. It provides juicy fruit with medium body and tannins. From the U.S., try the 2010 Palmina Barbera Santa Barbara County or 201 Uvaggio Barbera Lodi. From Italy, the 2009 Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti is a winner with plenty of fruit but also notes of flowers and spice.
Zinfandel – Another good match for spicy fare with tomatoes. I’d recommend the Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel. It has juicy, forward fruit and moderate, soft tannins.
Egri Bikaver – Paprika and tomato sound like goulash to me. In Hungary, the wine of choices for that is Egri Bikaver, aka Bull’s Blood. It’s a blend of Blaufrankisch, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kadarka and other grapes. Expect cherry jam, clove and other spices with moderate tannins. Egerin Bull’s Blood is fairly common in the U.S.
A varietal that I enjoy, and pairs well with feta cheese and citrus flavors is a Viognier, another white wine option to add to the mix. I’ll also suggest local Thomas Fogarty Gewurztraminer. In general, if you want to venture into the world of wine but don’t know where to start, Gewurz may be a good wine of choice; it’s aromatic, floral, teasingly sweet and easy to drink.
A couple of notes regarding barley and some of the ingredients and flavors in this risotto:
- Recipe: Yotam Ottolenghi’s barley, tomato and garlic risotto recipe or
see page 109 in Jerusalem: A Cookbook
- Preparing barley is easy, similar to rice, you’ll need approximately 2 cups of liquid to 1 cup of barley
- Passata is essentially sauce or “uncooked tomato puree that has been strained of seeds and skins”
- The lemon peel in the recipe adds wonderful citrus flavors to the plate
- The dish is hearty and filling as is, but if you want something extra, try shrimp tossed with a bit of the same paprika used in the recipe, along with a dash of olive oil and kosher salt roasted in the oven for approximately 6-7 minutes; it works beautifully with the risotto
- Feta cheese is wonderful crumbled on top and opt for a creamy one; my recommendation is a sheep’s milk feta from Israel
If you have the cookbook, or are considering buying it (and it makes a wonderful gift for you or someone special) you’re invited to join our wonderful community as we (virtually) cook a treasure trove of tantalizing recipes. Together we’re exploring ingredients, inspiring one another and Tasting Jerusalem . Hope you have a marvelous risotto dinner along with a wonderful glass of wine. And if you have more wine recommendations to add to the list, do share!