You may not know this, but risotto is actually a process – not an ingredient.
A lot of people think that risotto is the rice used for making risotto. But just like you can use different tortillas or fillings to make a quesadilla, you can use a wide range of grains to make risotto!
Instead of rice, this Wheat Berry Risotto recipe uses a rarely used grain: whole-wheat berries. There are advantages and disadvantages to making risotto with wheat berries instead of rice. Unfortunately, it takes a bit longer – the berries take longer to soften up. The good news is that the berries are way more forgiving than rice. You don’t have to stir them continuously and it’s pretty hard to overcook them.
Not to mention the flavor is very unique and interesting. They have a really nutty flavor and great texture. As with any risotto you can put in all kinds of vegetables, from mushrooms to tomatoes.
I decided to keep this version very simple. I just used a red pepper and an onion for my veggies. You could add a huge range of veggies to it though, which makes it great for a Spring dish.
To start this dish off, add all your stock (low sodium versions of vegetable or chicken) to a large pot and get it warm. You don’t need it to boil or it’ll evaporate quickly. A gentle simmer is ideal. It’s really important to add warm liquid to the risotto later.
To start the risotto, add a good amount of olive oil to a large pan along with some garlic and crushed red pepper flakes (if you want). Put these over LOW heat and let them cook for a few minutes until the garlic is browned but not burned.
This will infuse the oil with the garlic and spices.
When the garlic is browned, remove it from the oil.
Next add the onions and peppers (or any other veggies you are using). Turn the heat up to medium and cook them for a few minutes until the veggies start to soften.
Then add all the wheat berries and cook for a minute to heat up the berries. Keep an eye on the pan to make sure berries don’t burn in the dry pan.
Now you need some wine!
Pour the wine into the pan and stir until it’s evaporated. This will only take a minute or two. The wine adds some flavor to the dish.
Now for the patience part! Working with about 1 cup of stock at a time, ladle the hot stock into the risotto and stir it. You don’t need to continuously stir the risotto but you do need to keep an eye on it, as the liquid will evaporate pretty quickly.
When the pan is dry, add more stock. Keep doing this until the wheat berries are soft. It’ll probably take an hour. They will eventually soften up though.
As the wheat berries soften, the whole dish will get kind of creamy just like any other risotto!
This version is almost done.
Now, if I were using a spring vegetable like asparagus for this dish, I’d still want it a bit crispy. So I would cook it quickly at the beginning, then remove it from the pan, then fold it back in after the risotto is cooked. If you don’t do this, your veggies will just turn to mush.
As a final touch for the dish, I highly recommend serving it with a good pinch of Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley!
While this version of risotto takes a bit longer, I think it’s actually easier. The wheat berries are a lot more forgiving than rice and you don’t need to worry about overcooking them at all.
If you’re looking for a new twist on an old classic, this is a great one!