1/4 cup peas, fresh or frozen and thawed
1 cup parsley leaves, tightly packed
1/2 cup basil leaves, tightly packed
Zest from 1 lemon
6 cups vegetable broth (preferably homemade), divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large leek, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups pearl barley
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to season
Chopped chives and additional grated cheese for garnish (optional)
Trim the bottom inch (or so) off the asparagus and discard. Slice off the tips of the spears and reserve. Cut the rest of the asparagus into big chunks.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the chopped asparagus stalks. Cook for about 4 minutes, then scoop them into a strainer. Run under cold water and transfer to a blender. Add the parsley leaves, basil leaves, lemon zest and 1/4 cup of the broth. Blend until completely smooth. Set aside. Blanch the asparagus spears and peas (if using fresh peas) for no more than one minute. Transfer them to an ice water bath until the orzotto is finished.
In a large sauté pan, or pot, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sliced leeks and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic slices and continue cooking for an additional two minutes, or until soft. Add the pearl barley, and toast for about 5 minutes.
Add the white wine to the pan, and mix with the wooden spoon until most of the liquid has evaporated. Make sure your broth is simmering nearby on a low burner. Once the wine has evaporated, add two ladles of the broth and stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed. At this point, season the orzotto with a hefty pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Keep adding the broth one ladle at a time, letting the barley absorb each addition of broth, until the barley is completely cooked (a touch al dente) and chewy. This should take about 25 minutes.
Once the barley is cooked, remove from the heat and fold in the butter and grated cheese. Stir in the asparagus-herb puree, asparagus spears, and peas. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and mix until well combined. Serve immediately with chopped chives and extra grated parmesan cheese on top.