I was determined to figure out how to make a risotto-type dish with barley in the required eight hours, and after three or four attempts I finally hit on two key elements: using ice to slow the start of cooking, so the barley would be less likely to overcook (it’s okay if it does; it’s just that the texture is a little more interesting when there are distinct barley grains in the mix), and folding tangy buttermilk into the barley just before serving (it gives the dish a lightness that it was lacking in my previous versions using cream).
Rinse the barley in a sieve under running water, then dump it into the slow cooker. Add
In a skillet or sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until deeply browned, about 7 minutes, adding the garlic in the last 2 minutes. Scrape into the cooker and add the ice. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.
Remove and discard the thyme stems. Gently fold in the buttermilk, season with more salt and pepper, if needed, and serve with a generous sprinkling of shaved or grated Parmesan on top.
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