Bärlauch Barley Risotto
Sometimes while hiking in Switzerland in the spring, you may catch a whiff of a familiar smell….
Likely it’s Bärlauch, wild garlic that grows in forests throughout the country.
It begins to show up in Swiss supermarkets and on restaurant menus in early March, and by the middle of the month it’s wild garlic frenzy, with Bärlauch appearing in everything from pesto, soup, salad dressing, pasta, spätzli, and bread to ice cream.
The German name literally means “bear leek”, and my favourite name origin story involves sleepy bears coming out of hibernation and munching on the pungent leaves as they fully wake up.
Previously, my main Bärlauch applications were salad dressing, spätzli, and pesto, but this year I wanted to try something new. Inspired by Ottolenghi’s barley risotto (but then uninspired by the long cooking process and then re-inspired by this less intensive variation), I added Bärlauch and to the mix and had a quick, spring-like dinner.
100 g bacon
1 onion, diced
200 g barley
1 litre chicken stock
around 20 leaves Bärlauch, chopped
the zest of one lemon
2 tbsp lemon juice
150 g spinach, chopped
In a large pot over medium high heat, fry the bacon. Once it has reached your desired level of crispiness (and there’s a nice layer of bacon fat in the bottom of the pot), take it out and put it aside.
Add the onions to the pot and cook for a minute, then add the barley. Cook, stirring for a few minutes or until the onions are translucent.
Add the stock, lower the heat to low, and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the Bärlauch, lemon zest and juice, and spinach and keep cooking until the barley is cooked through, about 10 minutes. If things start to look a little dry, just add a bit more stock or water.
Serve with the reserved bacon.
I like to fry my bacon in the pot that I subsequently use for the risotto. It can stick a little to the bottom of the pot, but you can just scrape it up and turn down the heat slightly. You can also cook the bacon separately, or leave it out and switch to vegetable stock for a vegetarian alternative.
Both fresh and frozen spinach work fine, the frozen spinach adding slightly to the cooking time.