Deep Dark Mushroom Barley Risotto


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!


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.


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..

Mushroom Soup

The city where I work is home to a large indoor market which holds at least five excellent green grocers.  I was on a mission for work (dark brown sugar for Mojito making) and I walked past boxes and boxes of flat field mushrooms.  For one pound.  One pound. Each box must have contained a minimum of 25 huge mushrooms.  So of course I left with one.

I had a 30g bag of dried porcini mushrooms at the back of the cupboard bought on a whim because I never know when the urge for mushroom risotto or soup will hit.

I’m a bit of a snob, I wouldn’t want to put more than one field mushroom into a risotto.  To me that’s a showcase for fancy mushrooms with a chestnut mushroom base.  What? It’s the way I like it.

The soup was also an excellent opportunity to use up the leftover potatoes from a few days previously.  I hate waste.  It ended up making seven bowls of soup.  Three ladle fulls to each bowl.  So lets say six people to play safe.

30g dried porcini mushrooms
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
25 large flat field mushrooms – I didn’t weigh them, sorry.  But they very nearly filled a plastic carrier bag.
2 chopped onions
1 rib of celery, chopped
1 mushroom stock cube (yes, Kallo)
1 chicken stock cube – go for vegetable if you like
250g of smothered potatoes, or raw potatoes chopped into about 1 inch cubes      if you don’t have any pre-cooked.  This weight is a guess.
Black pepper

Put the dried mushrooms into a bowl and cover with hot water. Leave them alone. Don’t worry about chopping them, they’ll be blended later.
Then, as usual, butter and oil into a large pan on a medium heat. Pop in the onions and the celery. Turn them to low and put the lid on. They’ll sit happily while you chop all the mushrooms. Just roughly, you want them to cook evenly but they’re going to get whizzed up in the blender.
In with the mushrooms and turn up the heat. You want to pull the water out of them and boil it away to concentrate their flavour.
When you’ve boiled away at least half of the liquid that’s appeared add the two stock cubes and at least 1 litre of water. Mix to incorporate the cubes properly.
Add the dried mushrooms with their soaking liquor.
Add the potatoes. If they’re raw, boil until they’re cooked. If they aren’t then they just need to be warmed up.
Add pepper, and salt to taste. Try to keep in mind that the soup will taste different when it’s been through the blitz.
You’ll have to do the next bit in batches, unless you’re using an immersion blender. You lucky person, you.
Half filling your blender, blitz up the soup in stages. Put the blitzed soup into another pan while you transfer the remaining lumpy soup, because we all love having more dishes to wash.
When all the soup is silky put it back onto a low heat to stay hot. At this point if it’s too thick adjust it by adding more hot water – it’s a bit odd having soup you can stand a spoon in.
Tweak the seasoning if you need to. I love a fair amount of black pepper with my ‘shrooms.

This would have been excellent with truffle oil drizzled over the top, which I have and have only just remembered about – bit miffed now.  It would also be lovely with a swirl of sour cream, even with the truffle oil.