Pearl-barley risotto with curly kale

Kale packs a powerful superfood punch, with more than twice the vitamin C of oranges, plus it contains Omega-3 fatty acids, more vitamin A than any other leafy green and more calcium than milk.

Winter in the kitchen garden can be a little bleak, but, thanks to the splendidly tall stems of curly kale, there is still something to look forward to. We have this vegetable year-round, apart from the summer months, so I try to include it in all sorts of dishes, from casseroles and crumbles to stir-fries. However, the family favourite seems to be curly-kale chips, which taste like seaweed from a Chinese restaurant.

Pearl-barley risotto with curly kale (serves 4)

250g pearl barley
Olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 rashers unsmoked bacon, sliced into lardons
200ml white wine
1.5 litres hot chicken stock
100g curly leaf kale, chopped
Grated zest of 1 lemon, plus a squeeze
10g or a handful of parsley
A knob of butter
Parmesan for grating
8 venison sausages
1 onion, chopped
250ml red wine
1tbspn balsamic vinegar (or glaze)

Rinse the pearl barley under cold running water and leave to drain. Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan and add the chopped onion, frying slowly until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and bacon and cook for a further three minutes.

Turn up the heat and add the pearl barley, stirring to ensure an even coating of olive oil, adding a splash more if necessary.

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Pour the white wine over it and cook for a further three minutes or so until it’s almost completely absorbed by the pearl barley.

Turn the heat down to medium and add half of the stock to the pan, keeping it to a rolling simmer. Once it’s absorbed (about 20 minutes), add the second half of the stock and the curly kale. Simmer until the stock is fully absorbed (again, about 20 minutes). Take off the heat and stir the lemon zest, herbs and knob of butter through the barley.

Serve with a squeeze of lemon and grated Parmesan.

Pre-heat your oven to 180˚C/350˚F/gas mark 4 and bake the venison sausages in an ovenproof dish. While they’re cooking, make the gravy by frying the chopped onion in a splash of olive oil, until soft. Pour the red wine and balsamic over it and allow to reduce by half.

Serve the pearl-barley risotto with the sausages and a drizzle of the gravy.

More ways with curly kale

risotto with curly kaleCurly-kale crumble
Blanch 200g curly kale in boiling water, then pour it into a colander and drain well. Cut two rashers of bacon into lardons and fry in a small pan. Transfer the kale and lardons to a shallow ovenproof dish, then pour over just enough chicken stock to cover them-about 300ml. Using your fingertips, mix together 100g butter, 50g grated cheese, 75g plain flour and a handful of chopped mixed herbs. Scatter the crumble over the kale and place in a hot oven for about 30 minutes.

Curly-kale chips
For a seriously healthy alternative to crisps, remove the stem and simply lay bite-sized pieces out on an oven tray and drizzle them with olive oil before baking for 10 minutes in a moderately hot oven. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve.

Asian-style kale
Stir-fry chopped kale with a splash of sesame oil, crushed garlic, finely chopped chilli and egg noodles. Serve with grilled salmon for an Asian-style supper.