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Pearl Barley Risotto with Watercress

Use thick-stemmed asparagus, if you can: they’ll be far easier to shave with a vegetable peeler, to get the ribbons you’re after.

When asparagus is not in season, thin ribbons of raw courgette – shaved with a potato peeler – make a good alternative: one medium courgette should be enough to produce about 180g of shaved ribbons. Serves four.

300g pearl barley
2.4 litres vegetable stock
100g baby spinach
200g watercress
90ml olive oil
120g unsalted butter – 80g cut into 1cm dice, 40g left whole

1 medium banana shallot, peeled and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
3 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
Coarse sea salt and black pepper

4 portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced, stalks included
1 medium leek, green and white parts, thinly sliced
2 tbsp lemon juice

For the asparagus and pecorino salad
200g asparagus (around 10 thick spears), woody stems trimmed
60g pecorino
0.5 tsp olive oil
1.5 tsp lemon juice

Put the barley in a medium saucepan and pour over 1.8 litres of stock. Bring to a boil on a high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer uncovered for 30-35 minutes, until cooked but still retaining a bite. Strain and set aside.

Rinse out the pan and fill with fresh water. Bring to a boil, blanch the spinach for 30 seconds, then transfer to a colander with a slotted spoon.

Rinse under cold water (this will help prevent discolouration), then squeeze out the excess moisture and set aside.

Keeping the pan of water on the boil, add the watercress and blanch for 30 seconds, transfer to a colander, rinse under cold water and squeeze out the excess moisture. Add to the spinach and roughly chop.

Wipe out the saucepan and add two tablespoons of oil and the 40g lump of butter. Put on a medium heat, then fry the shallot and garlic for six to seven minutes, stirring often, until soft but not coloured.

Add the thyme and bay leaf, pour in 400ml of the remaining stock and bring to a boil.

Cook for 10 minutes, until reduced to about 100ml, then stir in the spinach and watercress and cook for two minutes.

Remove from the heat, lift out and discard the bay leaf and thyme, then, while still hot, transfer to a blender with half a teaspoon of salt and a few cracks of black pepper.

Blitz, adding the diced butter a few cubes at a time as you do so, and waiting until each batch has been incorporated before adding the next.

Put two tablespoons of oil in a large saute pan on a high heat. Fry the mushrooms for three minutes, until softened but not coloured, then tip into a bowl, along with any liquid in the pan.

Return the pan to a medium-high heat, add the remaining two tablespoons of oil, then fry the leek for three minutes, until softened but not coloured. Leave in the pan and set aside.

To make the salad, run a vegetable peeler from the base to the tip of each asparagus stem to create long, thin ribbons. Place these in a bowl, then do the same with the cheese, running the peeler along it to create thin ribbons.

Add to the asparagus, along with the oil, lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a crack of black pepper, mix gently with your hands and set aside.

Don’t make this salad too long before serving: it won’t improve for sitting around.

To finish the dish, add the barley and mushrooms to the pan of leeks and pour over the remaining 200ml of stock. Mix well, then put on a medium-high heat and cook for three to four minutes.

Add the watercress and spinach puree, stir for a final minute to warm through, then add the lemon juice, a teaspoon of salt and a grind of black pepper.

Mix through and serve at once, with the asparagus and pecorino salad on top.