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Sunchoke, Saffron & Barley Risotto:  Slow Food, FAST

Sunchoke, Saffron & Barley Risotto: Slow Food, FAST

Recipes, Slow Eats, FAST

What is Slow Food?

“Slow Food stands at the intersection of ethics and pleasure, ecology and gastronomy.  It opposes the standardization of taste, the unrestrained power of the multinationals, industrial agriculture and the folly of fast life.  It restores cultural dignity to food and slow rhythms of conviviality to the table.  It is an universe of people who exchange knowledge and experience.  It believes that every dish we eat is the reult of choices made in fields, on ships, in vineyards, at schools, in parliaments.”

(from the Welcome to Our World Companion Handbook, Slow Food International)

That paragraph makes my spirit sing!  It underlines many of the life choices Howard and I have made in the past (almost) 10 years:  to slow down, move to a small community where we would know our neighbours, and find joy in a less-cluttered, less-busy life.

We wouldn’t go back for the world, but sometimes there’s no time for Slow.  Am I right?  Which is where Slow Food, FAST comes in:  dinner, made from scratch, on the table in less than an hour.


Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, are one of the few tubers native to North America.  Related to the sunflower, and when in bloom similar in appearance to an Aster, sunchokes thrive throughout the continent, earning the label “invasive weed” by many gardeners.  Once planted, sunchokes can be hard to get rid of — not a problem — just eat them!

The name Jerusalem artichokes is deceiving, as these knobbly little guys have no relation to an artichoke, and don’t originate from Jerusalem.  But once you get beyond that confusion, you’ll find that there is much to enjoy — a light taste reminiscent of artichoke hearts, a slight nuttiness, a quick crunch (even when cooked).


Sunchokes are harvested in the late winter/early spring before the plant blooms — which means that they’re available right now!  A versatile vegetable, sunchokes can be boiled, pureed, grated raw into salads, etc.  Almost anywhere you use potatoes, chestnuts, jicama or almonds, you can substitute sunchokes.

And for diabetics, sunchokes are an excellent low-carb option.  The tubers store starch for the winter in the form of inulin, rather than insulin, which metabolizes differently and does not have the same effect on blood-sugar levels.

Pick sunchokes that are moist and smooth, not dry or wrinkled, and keep them in the fridge until ready to use.  When cooking, you can leave the peel on, but I prefer to pare them lightly, to remove any black spots and tough peel.  Peel sunchokes completely before enjoying them raw.


Saffron — it’s a funny spice — chefs either love it or hate it.  If you decide to use it, spend a bit of extra money for the good stuff.  High quality saffron imparts a warm golden colour to risottos, and adds a subtle depth of flavour.  Too much will lend an unwanted medicinal taste to the dish, so don’t go overboard!

If you’d rather avoid spending at least $15-20 on a gram of saffron, then a pinch of turmeric will give you the colour (but not the taste).


We enjoyed some crunchy Chard Chips on the side, which were really easy to prepare as the risotto cooked.  I simply tossed a bunch of de-stemmed chard leaves with a tablespoon of olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, and some s+p.  I baked them, just like Kale Chips, in a 300° oven for about 30 minutes, flipping once half way through.

Although I made ours with chicken stock, I had a request from the Peanut Gallery to “meat things up a bit,” so I quickly grilled a sliced andouille link for us to share.   The thing I love about risotto is that it’s easy to keep vegans, vegetarians and meat lovers equally happy with small variations on the one dish.

Sunchoke, Saffron & Barley Risotto
(Serves 4)

This is not a leisurely hour’s worth of cooking, you’ll need to work briskly, but not in a panic.  Prep the sunchokes and other vegetables while the stock warms.  Risotto needs to be stirred pretty continuously, so don’t think you’re going to get a load of laundry on the go while you prepare dinner…

Traditional risotto uses arborio rice, but the technique can be used to cook any number or grains, including barley, quinoa, toasted couscous, etc.  Use leftovers to make one of my favourite treats, deep-fried Arancini.

Vegetable or Chicken Stock 1.5 L 6 cups
Saffron (optional) 12 threads
Sunchokes 250 g ½ lb
Olive Oil 45 ml 3 T
Shallot, minced 1
Garlic 1-2 cloves
Pot Barley 375 ml 1½ C
WhiteWine 125 ml ½ C
Parmesan Cheese, grated 60 ml ¼ C
Parsley, minced 60 ml ¼ C
s+p TT

Warm the stock in a saucepan over medium heat.  When hot add the saffron or turmeric and keep warm.  Scrub the sunchokes well, and pare lightly to remove any black spots and the tougher peel.  Cut into a large dice (5mm cubes).

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat until bubbling.  Sauté the sunchokes and shallot with some salt & pepper until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and barley, and continue to sauté, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly toasted, about 2 minutes.  Deglaze with the white wine and reduce until almost dry.  Begin to add the stock, about 1 cup at a time, and cook, stirring constantly, waiting until the liquid is almost completely absorbed before adding more stock.

Continue to cook, adding stock, until the barley is tender, but still al dente (about 30-35 minutes).  The risotto should not be too dry — add a little more stock if necessary.  Add the parmesan and parsley and stir to combine.  Season to taste and serve, passing additional parmesan at the table.

Suggested Substitutions:

  • No saffron?  For the same golden colour, substitute 1/4 tsp turmeric.
  • Thinking of using packaged stock?  Choose low-sodium, or, even better, make your own and freeze/can it!  Or make a quick stock with some of my Homemade Bouillon.