Wild Greens and Barley ‘Risotto’

Many of the best edible green plants grow wild in relative profusion. Use a guide book to help you identify them, and only pick what you can be absolutely certain of identifying, thus avoiding the few plants that are poisonous. Pick well away from roadside verges and recently sprayed areas. Always wash well and dry all wild greens thoroughly (see method) before cooking. The strong flavour of wild greens goes well with pasta or a grain, such as rice or barley, as in this inexpensive and sustaining dish and the crumble recipe that follows.

Ingredients

  • 2 lb / 900 g freshly picked wild greens, such as nettles, dock leaves, Jack-by-the-hedge, hogweed, fat hen, alexander stems, ground elder, chickweed, wood sorrel, orach and dandelion leaves
  • 1 small onion or 2 shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 oz / 60 g butter
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 12 oz / 340 g pearl barley
  • ½ pt / 280 ml white wine
  • pt / 850 ml hot vegetable stock
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Method

First wash the wild greens thoroughly in several changes of warm water, and then dry them on kitchen paper or in a salad spinner. Toss them into boiling water to blanch them. Tender leaves, such as chickweed, fat hen, wood sorrel, orach and Jack-by-the-hedge, will need only the briefest blanching for about 1 minute. Tougher, stronger leaves, such as dock and nettles, should be blanched for 2–3 minutes. Drain, rinse, dry thoroughly and roughly chop. Leave on one side.

Gently fry the onion or shallots in half the butter and the olive oil in a large saucepan. Stir in the barley, add half the wine, and stir until it has been absorbed. Add the remaining wine, and cook gently until that too has been absorbed. Stir in the vegetable stock, a little at a time, allowing each batch to be absorbed before adding the next. After adding two or three batches of stock, stir in the prepared greens, and continue cooking until the barley is tender and all the stock is used up. Season to taste, and just before serving, stir in the remaining butter and the Parmesan cheese.