Friday, March 29, 2013

Oven Roasted Chicken Over Wheat Berry Risotto

This wheat berry risotto is filled with good things like,
dandelion greens and shitake mushrooms.

I absolutely adore risotto but I do not adore the empty calories from consuming white, single grain rice so I was on a mission to create the same satisfying taste but with more nutritional bang for your buck.  Wheat berries, it is! I love to try out new stuff and while perusing the bulk section of my co-op grocery store I came to the ancient grains section. WHOA!  I was immediately in foodie heaven, I had to try them all! I picked one out, wheat berries and I decided to substitute it in for my favorite short grain buddy, the arborio rice and make a risotto that was healthier.  Now what the heck is a wheat berry?  I did some research and it's the whole, unprocessed wheat kernel that contains all three parts of the grain; germ, bran and the starchy endosperm.  I know, I know not super exciting and not at all super appetizing but I assure you this stuff is where it's at!  The list of health benefits goes on and on and on, it can even help you to lose weight!  Reading that last part had sealed the deal for me.

Wheat Berries
Whenever I re-make a classic dish I always substitute things that are closest to the way nature intended them.  We have moved so far into the super processed food norm that our children aren't sure where their food even comes from.  I once heard a child say "dirt, ewww my food grows in dirt."  That is the saddest thing I have ever heard.  I want my child to grow up knowing where her food comes from and choosing to eat it, in that form. I want her to love whole grains and chose them because they are not just good for you, but they are super complex and unique on your taste buds.  Every grain has a unique quality and I love playing with that when making it fit a classic dish.  My co-op had two different kinds of wheat berries; hard and soft.  The hard wheat berries will always retain a toothy, crunchy quality no matter how long you cook them, if this turns you off then choose the soft kind.  The soft ones will still be a lot more al dente than a cooked white rice but they are much softer and familiar to a beginner palette*.  The other part of risotto that I love is that you can add in whatever vegetables you have on hand and you bump up the bulk and nutrition of your dish even further. This "bulking" up does two things, it creates a side dish with leftover capabilities, that are awesome for breakfast the next day, with a fried egg on top. It also creates a veggies and starch in one pot, thus saving you from washing a ton of dishes and the babysitting of varies sides!  The veggies I chose for this recipe were wild dandelion greens and shitake mushrooms. First let's talk about fungus! There is a local mushroom farm about an hour from my house and they grow all different varieties of mushrooms, completely natural, without any pesticides. One of the beautiful varieties they grow are the shitakes, which are insanely good for you. They are said to be one of the world's most healthiest foods. They also have a very unique flavor,  they are rich and smoky, having an almost "bbq beef" quality to them.  I just adore them, and I prefer them over the, quintessential white button mushrooms.

Gorgeous shitakes from, Bulich Mushroom Farm 

Now let's talk about wild greens, specifically dandelion greens.  Wild greens are loaded with health benefits and come in an array of flavors.  Dandelion greens are said to be among the healthiest of the wild greens, boasting high amounts of calcium, iron and antioxidants.  They are called "cleansing greens," helping to clean out and detoxify your liver.  They have a peppery, grassy taste that I absolutely love and they wilt beautifully and easily right into your dish.  

Wild dandelion greens

*If you would like to learn more about the health benefits of wheat berries I highly recommend this website:

Now let's talk about chicken, wonderful chicken!  I absolutely love, bone-in meats and chicken is no exception.  I adore chicken breasts, but thighs and legs have my heart.  The bone in, chicken thigh or leg has incredible flavor that you just can't beat.  I always buy locally raised chickens that are allowed a varied diet and plenty of access to the outside.  This ensures a healthy, antibiotic free meat that's higher in vitamins, omega-3's and lower in fat and cholesterol.  For this recipe I leave the skin on, but feel free to take it off and save the calories.

Roasted chicken thigh & leg


6 Organic, farm raised chicken pieces, I used thigh and leg.

2 Slices pasture raised, organic bacon, chopped.

2 Tbsp olive oil

6-7 Cups homemade or good quality chicken stock

1/2 An onion, diced.

1 Large, organic shallot, diced.

2 Large, organic cloves of garlic, minced.

1 Cup wheat berries, I had hard berries*

2 Tbsp fresh, organic thyme, leaves only, chopped finely.

1 Tbsp organic lemon zest

3/4 Cup white wine, any dry white wine will work, I used pinot grigio.

1 Cup organic shitake mushrooms, sliced.

2 Cups organic dandelion greens, chopped.

2 Tbsp pasture raised, organic butter

1/2 Cup parm cheese, grated.

1/4 Cup pecorino, grated.

Sea salt & fresh ground pepper, to taste.

4 scallions, whites only, chopped.

Lemons, sliced for serving.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a sauce pan heat chicken stock, needs only to be warm.  

Heat a large, saute pan over medium heat, add olive oil and cook bacon till crispy.  Remove from pan and set aside. 

Salt and pepper chicken and sear chicken, skin side down first till deep brown, flip and repeat on opposite side. Remove from pan and place in a baking dish. Sprinkle with 1 Tbsp of thyme and lemon zest, set aside. 

In the same saute pan, cook onions, garlic and thyme till soft.  Add wheat berries to the pan to coat with the oil, deglaze with the wine and stir till it evaporates. 

Working 1 cup at a time add in warm stock stirring occasionally till pan is dry and then add in another cup, repeating with all stock.  The berries will take about an hour to soften and 6 to 7 cups of stock.  The hard berries will remain toothy, they will be very chewy. The soft berries will be more like al dente rice.  When the berries are cooked to desired texture, add in the mushrooms and greens and cook for 2 minutes to heat through.  Add in butter and cheeses and remove from heat.  Stir to completely combine and taste for salt and pepper, season to taste.   

When the berries have about 40 minutes left to cook put the chicken into the preheated oven.  Roast for 30 to 35 minutes or until juices run clear. 

Serve Chicken over the risotto, sprinkle with scallions and serve with slices of fresh lemon.

*If you are nervous about the wheat berries, there are other nutritious grains that can be used in place: barley, farro and brown short grain rice are all appropriate substitutions. The cooking times will vary but the method will stay the same.

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!


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