Jim and I are cursed. I’m absolutely sure of it. The very same day that my back began to feel better than before I got my steroid shot (exactly seven days after I got the shot), Jim hurt his back.
When I heard his voice over the phone at work, I assumed that he was calling to see if I was feeling better, and I happily exclaimed that I wasn’t feeling any back pain so far that morning. I was puzzled that he didn’t sound happy on the other line and when I asked what was wrong, he grimaced well, honey, I couldn’t say the same for myself. He had fallen while doing his Russian kettle-bell workout (which, now, seems like the most ridiculously dangerous way to work out) and he felt like his entire midsection was in a knot. We called the doctor who’s been treating me and a few hours later we were sitting in the office, with every employee coming in to say now who’s takin’ care of who and laugh at our cursed misfortunes (we laughed with them, of course.)
It turns out he may have a herniated disc, though we can’t be sure since Jim has no insurance and can’t get an MRI. The doctor prescribed some painkillers (we’re becoming quite a drug factory here), a week of rest, and we all agreed that if anything got worse we’d go to the hospital and pray that the bill wouldn’t be a bah-zillion dollars. Luckily, he’s feeling better today, and isn’t even taking the painkillers (like a good ex-addict). But I still think we’re cursed.
And really, what do you do when you are cursed? I imagine that cooking a good, healthy, nutrient-rich dinner would be one way to help alleviate things. I spied Barley Risotto in Gourmet a few days ago, marking it as a good weeknight dinner—when regular risotto feels a tad to decadent. Being that decadent was about the furthest thing from what Jim and I were feeling, it seemed like the perfect dinner. It’s comfy yet healthy. It’s springy but warming. It’s just what you feed someone who’s injured.
Since you are blending a portion, use as much of the asparagus as you can—only cutting off the base and not doing the normal bend-and-break thing that you do to prepare asparagus for pan-frying. The “sauce” that you make by blending the asparagus stalks and garlic is mouth-watering, but potent; make sure to use only the given amount of garlic and no more—unless you are trying to ward off vampires (or kisses).
Barley Risotto with Asparagus
adapted slightly from Gourmet: April 2007//serves 4
1 bunch medium asparagus, trimmed
5 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 cups pearl barley
1/2 cup vermouth
1 garlic clove
1 1/4 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
3/4 cup Parmiggiano-Reggiano, grated
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
Cut top third of each asparagus stalk diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices, reserving tips and slices together, then coarsely chop remainder. Bring water (5 1/2 cups) and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan, then add chopped asparagus and cook, uncovered, until very tender, 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a food processor (not a blender, which would require adding liquid).
Add reserved asparagus tips and slices to boiling water and cook, uncovered, until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer with slotted spoon to a sieve, reserving cooking liquid in pan, and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Drain well and reserve in another bowl.
Measure cooking liquid and, if necessary, add enough water to bring total to 4 cups, then reserve.
Cook onion with pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt in oil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add barley and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Add vermouth and boil, stirring, until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute.
Add 4 cups reserved asparagus-cooking liquid and bring to a boil, covered, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until barley is tender (it should be chewy) and mixture is thickened to a stew-like consistency, 35 to 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, mince garlic and mash to a paste with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt using side of a large heavy knife, then add to asparagus in food processor along with zest and purée until smooth.
When barley is cooked, stir in asparagus purée, asparagus-tip mixture, and enough additional water to thin to desired consistency and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until hot, about 1 minute. Stir in cheese, then season with salt and pepper. Serve with pecans and additional cheese on the side.