How does risotto differ from a plain bowl of rice? Let us count the ways. We begin with a special variety of rice (Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano) with a starchy outer layer that is especially adept at absorbing sauces. The rice also releases some of its starch into the cooking liquid, giving the dish a velvety texture. The gradual addition of broth as the rice cooks, plus plenty of butter and cheese, dial up risotto's lusciousness.
This recipe is adapted from Sarah Copeland's forthcoming book, "Feast" (Chronicle Books).When you gradually add warm broth to barley, it turns tender and creamy -- the same texture that Arborio rice gives risotto. The chard, always amenable to grains, is a revelation, becoming sweet and almost satiny after about five minutes in the pot. And although cooking radishes may sound odd, it tames their bite without masking their liveliness. Preserved lemon, with its complex aroma and acidity, stands up to the hearty flavors.
Perfect risotto is easy to make; the key is to be sure the stock is fully incorporated after each addition and to avoid overcooking the rice. If you prefer, you may use Parmesan instead of Asiago cheese in this recipe.