Mushroom & Leek Barley 'Risotto'

Serves 4

Have I mentioned my affection for mushrooms? Statistically speaking, they are the most commonly featured ingredient on this site to date (at a whopping 15%, or four of 27 recipes). For this, there are a few reasons. The first being that there is a serious abundance of both wild and cultivated mushroom varietals available here on the West Coast; second, I love the depth of flavour that both dried and fresh mushrooms bring to a dish; and finally, their meaty texture is great in vegetarian meals – which we eat probably about 50% of the time. 

Today’s post makes for a great weeknight meal but it is still special enough to serve on a weekend to guests. Barley “risotto” has been popular in recent years for its resemblance to the comforting, creamy texture of the traditional Italian dish, but with less work and skill required. More recently, I’m noticing the barley risotto trend has adopted a new persona, namely “porridge”. Regardless of which you identify with – classic and sophisticated, or rustic and nostalgic – if you haven’t had it before, it’s delicious - and healthy.  I should note that you will definitely notice more of a toothsome bite to the grains than a traditional risotto, but I personally like the added al dente texture that the barley lends.

Brett and I often make some form of this dish during the week because we almost always have grains, Parmesan cheese, and some form of stock on hand. Coupled with whatever random odds and ends need to be used up in the fridge, it often means we don’t need to stop at the grocery store on the way home from work. As an added bonus, if we make lots it re-heats well for lunches the next day.  Mushroom is often our go-to flavour, but you can adapt this to suit your veggie preferences.  In this particular version I also added leeks because, for me, they are truly representative of spring and the bounty of produce to which we can look forward in the coming months at our local markets. That said, you can easily substitute cooking onion or shallots. Finally, this is perfect for early spring when it’s still a bit cool and you crave something comforting. Admittedly, we made and photographed this dish nearly a month ago, when it was still cool and rainy. It seems in recent days that most of the country has been fortunate to experience balmy summer-like temperatures, but I still feel this dish deserves to be represented. After all, Edmonton did get snow last week, so we may not be out of the woods yet…

Ingredients

  • ½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms mixed with 5 cups boiling water (substitute pre-made stock - mushroom, vegetable, or chicken)
  • 2-3 cups of mixed fresh mushrooms, your choice
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 medium leeks, light green and white parts only, thoroughly washed and thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup good quality white wine or sherry (optional)
  • 1 small handful of fresh thyme (a few sprigs) or ½ tsp dried
  • 1 cup pot or pearl barley*
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • ½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Truffle oil to finish (optional)

*Pot and pearled barley are readily available in most grocery stores. That said, if you can find it, and are seeking a more nutritious version of this meal, feel free to substitute hulled barley which is less processed.  Please also note that pot and hulled barley will take more cooking time and liquid than pearled, since they are less refined.  Check out this link for the nitty-gritty details on various forms of barley, their relative nutrient values, and cooking considerations

Method

Place dried mushrooms in a medium bowl along with boiling water (skip if using prepared broth). Set aside to steep while you prep the remaining ingredients.

Using a damp paper towel, brush any debris/dirt from the mushrooms and slice thinly, or into halves or quarters, depending on their size.  Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt olive oil  over a medium-high heat. Add leeks and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in barley, followed by white wine or sherry (if using) and season with salt and pepper, along with thyme. Stir and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

While barley mixture simmers, strain the porcini mushrooms, reserving the liquid Coarsely chop the re-hydrated mushrooms and set-aside. Add three cups of the strained mushroom broth to the barley mixture, reserving the remainder. Bring the barley mixture to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce to medium-low, and cover for 20-25 minutes.

While the barley cooks, add the butter to a sauté pan and heat over medium-high. Add the sliced fresh mushrooms and stir to coat. Cook the mushrooms until a golden colour develops, being sure not to over crowd the pan (cook in batches if needed). Remove from heat and set-aside. Note: To save time, you can skip this step and stir the mushrooms in with the leeks above. The flavours will be slightly less developed, but still very good.

When the barley has simmered for 20-25 minutes it should be nearly cooked through. At this point, you can stir in both the chopped, re-hydrated and freshly sautéed mushrooms. The barley will continue to absorb liquid, so you can add additional  broth (1/4-1/2 cup at a time) until the barley is cooked through, but still slightly chewy (5-10 minutes).

To ensure a creamy risotto texture serve as soon as possible after the addition of broth. Just prior to serving, taste and adjust seasoning as necessary, remove thyme spring, and stir in ¼ cup of the Parmesan cheese along with ¼ cup of the parsley. Divide amongst plates and garnish with remaining parsley, Parmesan, and a drizzle of truffle oil (or good quality olive oil). Enjoy.