One can't call it a risotto because there is no rice involved, however, it sure had the creamy sauce and al dente feel. It was a 'try me' recipe developed after I had a farro 'risotto' in a small bistro near my daughter's place in Brooklyn. I couldn't find farro in the rural backwater, so I bought a cup of spelt berries from the 'bulk island' at the supermarket and brought them home to sit on my counter while I read up a bit on spelt and farro.
half a cup of spelt berries cooked up perfect for two
Turns out they are both forms of wheat and both are used in a boiled state to make side dishes, soups, and stews that are high in fiber, have a considerable amount of protein, and give you a jolt of iron. They can also be ground to make flour for bread baking. In Germany, spelt is called dunkel and gets various grinds for multi-grain breads. In Holland, spelt is used in the making of Dutch jenever ... a golden gin that is very tasty, indeed. In America, you can find spelt pasta and crackers in the health food aisles at some stores; the grain is sold in bulk, and there are various companies selling grinds of spelt flour. So there , that's it in a nutshell.
Flavor-wise, spelt reminds me of a cross between al dente orzo and barley. It has the shape of orzo, but a nutty kind of sweet flavor. It chews like barley, but it doesn't have the 'slipperiness' of cooked barley. It's got a clean squeaky bite to it and is perfect in combination with vegetable additions, hence I made a side dish like a risotto last evening to have with the some asparagus that I couldn't pass by in the market. I also marinated and 'grilled' some chicken thighs. Dinner was a really pleasant surprise, as I totally played with all the ingredients I have in the fridge and pantry ...
Spelt a la Risotto for Two
1/2 c. spelt berries
2 c. cold water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1 whole clove
1 small white boiling onion
1 small shallot, small dice
1 clove garlic, minced
2 perfect green onions/scallions, tipped and sliced into thin coins
2 tsp. butter
2 c. shitake mushrooms, stems trimmed and mushrooms quartered
1 tbsp. plus a bit more olive oil
2 1/2 c. broth (chicken, vegetable, or beef - depends on what the dish will accompany)
1 tbsp. cornstarch
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Making the Dish:
1. Place 2 cups cold water in a deep sauce pan.
2. Peel the small onion and poke the clove into the onion. Add it and the thyme and bay leaf to the water.
3. Put the spelt into a bowl and wash it well, picking out any woody looking pieces or small stems.
4. Place the spelt in the water/herbs and bring to a slow bubble over medium low heat. Cook covered for about 45 minutes or until you can bite into the spelt and it feels al dente. Keep an eye on the pan and add a bit more water if it looks like the spelt is boiling dry.
5. Remove the herbs, drain the spelt and set it aside for a few minutes.
6. In a deep saucepan, begin a sauté with the olive oil, shallots, and garlic. When they glisten, add the drained spelt and continue cooking until the grain begins to 'pop' around a bit and stick slightly to the pan.
7. Add one cup of the broth (don't burn yourself - the steam is pretty prolific!). Stir to bring anything sticking to the pan off the bottom and turn the heat down to a gentle bubbly simmer.
8. In a separate fry pan, sauté the mushrooms in the butter until they are browned at the edges. Don't crowd them or they won't brown well.
9. Add the browned mushrooms to the spelt and continue cooking until the broth is almost absorbed. Add a second cup of broth and continue cooking, stirring occasionally and 'taste testing' the spelt grains.
10 . Add the cornstarch to the remaining bit of broth and stir to make a slurry.
11. When the spelt is swollen and soft on the inside, but crunches as you bite into it, add the slurry to thicken the sauce, add salt and black pepper to taste, toss the scallions in and serve immediately.
At this point, you could add cheeses or cream to make a different type of sauce finish. You can use the dish as a bed for grilled meats or larger roasts of vegetables. The dish is really versatile. I was also thinking that a drop or two of a smoky flavoring sauce would also make a great addition for a side to accompany steaks or Asian glazed ribs. The sky's the limit here. Let me know if you find something interesting to do with this 'basic spelt side'.