Since this time tomorrow I’ll be at home in Italy, today I’d like to dwell on the obvious and talk about the weather, or, more precisely, the weather-related irony that you need to develop and live by if you are to survive in Britain as an Italian expat.
The weather where I’m from is simple enough. A bit continental and a bit mediterranean, winters are cold and wet, summers are hot and humid. Perhaps the best adjective to describe that type of weather is reliable, even a little boring. You get used to the slowly fading summer heat, the gentle approaching of dry and breezy autumns. The winters are long and far from mild, but by the end of February the first buds begin to appear on the cold-stricken branches and you know spring is fast approaching. It rains basically every Easter, whether it be alta (high) o bassa (low) but, before you know it, summer arrives and brings, unapologetically, thundery showers, humidity and inexorable heat. Every. Single. Year.
On the other hand, the British islands are subjected to such a changeability that makes the weather forecast particularly useless, especially if presented by a Prince. The only recognisable pattern in British weather is untrustworthiness. Thus it seems only fair that just as we are about to leave and after a heart-breakingly long and cold winter, which has forced me to weather my puffa jacket until the beginning of May and a woollen coat until last week, the glorious British summer should all of a sudden arrive in full swing.
The best part of this is that, after several weeks of average temperatures of about 30°C and untainted sunshine, right now and for the next few days in Italy it’s raining. I wonder whether I’ll be cooking this orzotto for my family, then. Simple and hearty, yet aromatic and zesty enough to bring some sunshine into weather-beaten souls. I first tried this ingredients combination with risotto, but found it too ‘restaurant-y’: the pearl barley gives a crunch and a rustic feel to the dish that suits me better. Thyme and lemon are a couple of flavours that really don’t need introduction. If you’ve never tried them together, start with something basic like this orzotto and be amazed. The ratio of thyme-to-zest depends on your taste. I am deeply in love with lemon zest, but I found that more than half a lemon’s worth of zest is enough for two people. Experiment and report back in the comments. In the meantime, I wish you all some well-deserved sunshine (make sure you top up your vitamin D, people!) while I rot in the Italian rain.
knob of unsalted butter (about 1 tsp)
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
170 gr pearl barley, rinsed in cold water
about 800 ml vegetable stock, hot
1 tsp finely chopped thyme leaves
zest of half an unwaxed lemon
2 tbsp pecorino romano, slivered
freshly grated black pepper
In a pot, melt the butter and add the chopped onion, gently cooking on a low heat until the onion looks translucent. This will take about 5 minutes or less. Make sure you the onion doesn’t colour, or it will spoil the final flavour. Add the pearl barley and stir for about 1 minute, so that the barley is coated with the onion and butter.
Now add the first small amount of stock. I usually add enough to just cover the bottom of the pot. Stir and let it absorb. Then add another bit of stock and stir. Keep going for about 25 minutes, until the barley it’s cooked. The barley should always lightly simmer but never boil vigorously. After about 15 minutes, add the chopped thyme leaves.
After 25 minutes, the barley should be cooked. Turn the heat off, add the lemon zest and the pecorino slivers. Stir well and serve with some freshly ground pepper on top.