29 January 2010

Pearled Barley and Mushroom Risotto

Questo risotto e veramente fantastico.  There's just something about this dish that calls for speaking in Italian...the language of love, of the home hearth, of good food...oh, is it heavenly.  The way the slowly-cooked pearls of barley gently release their creaminess during hours of simmering, the way the mushrooms meld in with the Parmigiano, and the way each silky spoonful and al dente bite satisfies and nourishes.  This risotto is truly fantastic.

Well, okay, let's come back down to earth.  It's not really a risotto, since it's made with barley, and it's much easier to make than a risotto.  But that, arguably, makes it even better!  Risotto, a traditional dish from the cereal-growing Po Valley of northeastern Italy, is made from high-starch, medium-grained rice (such as the Carnaroli, Vialone Nano, and Arborio varieties).  I usually shy away from making risotto the classic way, in which hot broth is added to the rice one cupful at a time, the rice being stirred continuously until the broth is absorbed between additions.  So much stirring!  But it is the starch of the grains themselves, and not actual cream, that binds the dish together, and if you want to get the characteristic creamy texture for your risotto, much stirring will be asked of you.

But not if you make this Pearled Barley and Mushroom Risotto!  My version, starring pearled barley picked up from the bulk section at Tri-County Produce, makes a delicious risotto and it is so easy to make!  Slow-cooking--not stirring--is what develops the starch, and the mushrooms are cooked right along with the barley, so there are few pots to wash.  Using vegetable broth, this would make a great vegetarian main course for four.  Or, cook it as I did with some chicken broth and serve alongside your favorite roast or sausages as a side dish for six.  Either way, I think you'll agree, this pearled barley "risotto" is fantastico.

Pearled Barley and Mushroom Risotto
Serves 4-6

1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed then minced
1 1/4 cups pearled barley
1/2 cup dry white wine (or for a twist, sweet Marsala)
1/2 tsp. dried basil flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth or water, for a vegetarian dish)
3/4 lb. brown mushrooms
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in in a large pot over medium-high heat, the saute onion until nearly translucent.  Add garlic and continue to cook, stirring, until garlic is softened and fragrant.  Stir in pearled barley to coat with oil and let roast 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add wine and let boil until reduced by half, then add salt, pepper, basil flakes, and chicken broth (or water, if using).

Simmer barley on very low heat for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally, until barley is tender (it will still have an al dente bite to it, thanks to the hearty exterior).  Alternatively, cook 45 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring more frequently.

While barley is cooking, clean and chop mushrooms into small dice.  When barley is nearly done, add mushrooms and continue cooking until mushrooms are done.

When barley is finished cooking, stir in 1/4 cup grated parmesan and check seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as needed.  Serve sprinkled with finely chopped fresh parsley and pass extra Parmigiano at the table.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

The risotto looks amazing! I've tried making several mushroom risottos, and they're always a huge success at my house. I'm definitely going to have to try this one.

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