Deep Dark Mushroom Barley Risotto

chestnut-portobello-mushrooms

Velvety and nutty textured this is the comfort that the creeping of Autumn is calling for.  It’s deeply savory, it’s salty and it’s brightened with parsley and a breath of lemon juice.  Let’s give rice a run for it’s money!

barley

Pearl barley.  It used to be an old world something food that Grandma’s put in their stews, now it has a new lease of life as the star of the show.  Salads are built around it (particularly good with grilled chicken, plums and basil), it’s soaked with flavour giving stock and stuffed into delicious things.  It makes a great sweet dessert (more on that later) and it’s a beautiful rice substitute.

Here, it is used exactly the same way you would for a normal risotto, except it is way less needy than rice.  It doesn’t need to be constantly stirred to give up a silky result.  As long as you’re on watch as the cooking time draws to a close, so you don’t add too much liquid, you’ll be left with a risotto that falls from the spoon the way it should.

parsley-lemon-parmesan

This makes enough for two of us for dinner

12g (ish) dried mushrooms – I had shiitake to hand
50g butter
1 medium/large onion, diced quite small
250g pearl barley
800ml chicken/mushroom/vegetable stock – I used one Kallo chicken and one Kallo mushroom stock cube
150g portobello mushrooms
350g chestnut mushrrooms
25g butter
ground black pepper
1 garlic clove minced/crushed/chopped
handful of chopped parsley
1-2 tsp lemon juice
handful of finely grated parmesan/grana padano

Pop the dried mushrooms into a bowl and cover them with boiling water.
Into a deep saucepan add the butter and the onions on low. Cook until the mushrooms begin to go translucent but not brown.
Have the stock/s to hand. Tip in the pearl barley and stir to coat the grains with the butter. They will catch on the bottom of the pan as they absorb the butter, they don’t ‘fry’ in it, so once they’re coated pop in the stock and bring to a boil then turn to medium/low.
While this is bubbling away slice up your mushrooms and put them into a separate pan with the butter, pepper and garlic. Let the mushrooms cook and begin to wilt, they’ll give up quite a bit of water. Boil off most of this water but not all of it. This is concentrated mushroom stock, it is delicious savory flavour, it is UMAMI!
Turn the heat off under the mushrooms. Slap on a lid and they can just wait their turn.
Pour the dried mushrooms and all their liquid into the barley.
Check the barley, it should be approaching al dente. Nutty chewiness is good, a raw snap is not. If it’s approaching the delicious chewy stage but still has lots of water left, whack up the heat to boil it off but stir occasionally to prevent burning. Don’t worry, barley is resilient. On the flip side, if it’s not ready yet but seems to be drying out – add more water or stock. (If using stock cubes don’t add more than two! Just add more water or it will be too salty.. yes, there is such a thing as too much salt).
When it’s ready turn off the heat.  Add the cooked mushrooms and all their ‘resting juice’.  Add in the parmesan, parsley and lemon. Mix it through. Taste it to see if it needs any seasoning adjustment.

Like a risotto, slap on the lid and let it sit for five minutes. I’m sure you can find something else to do for that time. Toss the salad, soak the dishes, make sure everyone has wine cutlery or just go feed the cat.

Dish up and devour.  Salad goes really well, but so do wilted greens with a little lemon juice.  Savoy cabbage, broccoli.. whatever you fancy or have to hand.

Leftovers are also really good cold, eaten from a bowl with a spoon.  Just gonna put that out there..

Aglio e Olio

aglio_e_olio

I had promised myself that by the end of Thursday the parsley would be all used up.  I got home from work absolutely famished (I’ve started to try out walking to and from work – less pennies, hopefully less inches too). Cue aglio e olio!  So simple, so amazing and so delicious.  Simple always is, isn’t it?  I really shouldn’t act so surprised.

I think perhaps the only thing I did differently was to keep my garlic quite sharp, I only let it take on a mere hint of colour around the edges (sounds awfully pretentious, no?).  I like it with a bit of bite.

This time I was only cooking for one.  Something I’m not very good at, I think I’m always under the illusion that I’m feeding twelve.

100g spaghetti – I grab it out of the packet so that the spaghetti fits between my thumb and first finger when I put the tip of my thumb to my second knuckle.. if that makes any sense to any one!
1 clove garlic – sliced thinly
2 tbsp good quality olive oil – it really makes a difference, particularly as this is a minimal dish
bunch of parsley chopped – mine was about a small handful
grated parmesan – again, about a small handful

Boil up your spaghetti in salty water, I always remember our Italian customers (and now chefs on telly) saying you should cook your pasta in water as salty as the sea.
While that’s going on, gently warm up the olive oil and sling in the garlic. I pretty much just heated my garlic through. Letting it sizzle gently for about four minutes on the lowest heat. Most other folks seem to go for a light browning. Go wild, just don’t burn it.  Burnt garlic is bitter and nasty.
Again, at this stage people talk about adding chilli flakes – if I had had any, I surely would.
Drain the pasta when it’s al dente but don’t drain all the liquid off, keep about two tablespoons in with the pasta.
Chuck in the garlic and oil and coat everything, then the parsley and parmesan. Mix everything around, the parmesan along with the starchy cooking liquor make a beautiful emulsion so everything clings together.
Shove it in a bowl or eat it straight from the pan, no one’s looking!

lemon_for_aglio_e_olio
What I did do when I was almost finished was sling it a little bit of lemon juice, no more than a teaspoon maybe, just to brighten things up a little bit.

Of course you can embellish it with capers; olives; seafood; sundried tomatoes; wilted greens (chard!) etc. etc., but it’s nice to know that something simple and cheap can be wonderful without other ingredients.