Italians make a rice dish called rizotto (riz is Italian for rice). I make the same type of dish with pearl barley so I call it orzotto (orzo is Italian for barley). This time of year, fresh young asparagus is abundant in the farmers' market, so don't be buying imported asparagus from the grocery store. This recipe serves two people as a main dish or 4-6 people as a side dish.
2 tbsp butter
2 fat green onions, sliced (about ¼ cup)
1 bunch asparagus, in 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
½ cup cooked ham, small dice
(I like to use the smoked pork from Emco Meats in Saskatoon)
1 ¼ cup pearl barley
¼ cup Madeira wine (optional - see note below)
1 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
5 cups hot chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
¼ cup parmesan cheese
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Sauté the onions and asparagus until softened. Remove the vegetables with a spoon, leaving the remaining butter in the pot.
Turn up the heat to medium. Add the ham and pearl barley. Stir to coat with the butter. Add the Madeira wine. Cook until all the moisture is gone, stirring frequently to prevent sticking or burning. While doing this, stir in the salt and pepper.
When the barley is good and dry, add one cup of hot stock. Cook, bubbling and stirring, until the liquid is absorbed. Continue in this manner, adding one cup of stock and stirring until absorbed. With the last cup of stock, return the asparagus and onions to the pot. Bubble the mixture, stirring frequently, until the liquid has formed a creamy sauce. Take off the heat and stir in the cheese. Serve hot.
Note: Madeira is a sweet dessert wine. It’s very good served over an ice cube with a slice of lemon.