There’s still enough of a spring chill in the air to enjoy a hearty, comforting, and cheesy supper. If you’ve been reluctant to make risotto using the traditional Arborio rice, thinking it sounds too tricky, here’s a solution for you: Risotto made with barley is every bit as satisfying and delicious as that made with rice, but much easier to deal with on the cooking end of things. Barley doesn’t need to be constantly stirred and fussed over – it’s quite content just to pretty much bubble along all by itself, with an occasional stirring from the cook just to keep things moving. The end result tastes (and is) wholesome with just the right amount of chewy bite. This version has tons of mushrooms, both sliced and chopped, to amp up the flavor. And as a salute to spring, the finished dish is topped with a fresh, lemony Italian Parsley Pesto that comes together in minutes. Toss on some cheese, and you’re home free without even breaking a sweat.
This recipe comes together in a few easy steps. First of all, get all your vegetables cut or chopped. The onions, peppers, and chopped mushrooms go into the pan first and are sautéed until softened. Out they go, and in comes the sliced mushrooms. Once they are browned and all their liquid has evaporated, out they go also. Now get some oil good and hot and add the barley. Let it toast in the hot oil for a few minutes, then add the wine. Toss back the vegetables, and pour in half the broth. Once that’s all absorbed, add the rest of the stock and you are pretty much there. No fussing, no constant stirring and sweating bullets thinking you won’t get the perfect texture which happens often when making traditional risotto with rice. If my brother Gary were a grain, he’d be barley – no fussing, no drama, with a ‘just take it easy’ approach to life. While I’m tearing my hair out, he’s having a beer.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a hearty and comfort food kind of dish. I love it during those rainy spring days when there’s still a little chill in the air. That being said, it needs a little lightening up since it’s pretty rich (after all, we must have plenty of cheese or it just wouldn’t be risotto). This is the cue for the Italian Parsley Pesto. There is just enough freshness from the herbs and a nice dose of lemon juice that somehow gets this all working together.
See how easy that was? Now all that’s left to do is dig in.
Hope you enjoy this one. Thanks so much for reading today! I really appreciate it. And Happy Spring!! xoxoxo PS: The mushrooms below are Oyster Mushrooms. They were just so darned cute I had to take a few photos.
- FOR THE RISOTTO
- 2 cups pearled barley, rinsed
- 1-pound mushrooms (any variety or combination of varieties that works for you) – half sliced, and half chopped
- 1 onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
- 1 orange bell pepper, chopped (about 2 cups)
- About ¼ cup olive oil for various sautéing efforts
- 1 cup white wine (I like something like Pino Grigio for this, but use what you have on hand)
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 4 cups mushroom broth (NOTE: If you can’t find or don’t have mushroom broth, just use 4 additional cups of chicken broth. You can often find boxed mushroom broth at Whole Foods or New Seasons markets)
- NOTE: You will probably need additional broth, just in case your dish needs more to get the consistency you want, and since barley is very thirsty, you’ll need more to reheat leftovers.
- 1-2 cups grated Parmesan, Asiago, Machengo, or other cheese of your choice
- FOR THE ITALIAN PARSLEY PESTO
- 2 cups roughly chopped Italian Parsley (stems and leaves both are OK)
- ¼ cup pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, walnuts or other nuts you might have on hand (but probably not peanuts)
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- FOR THE RISOTTO
- In a Dutch Oven, sauté the onion and chopped mushrooms until softened. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Sauté the sliced mushrooms until all liquid has evaporated and they are nice and caramelized. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Reheat your pan on medium high with a couple of tablespoons of oil, and when the oil starts to shimmer, add the barley. Stir and cook for a few minutes until barley starts to look shiny and a little toasty. The point here is that you just want to make sure all the barley has been coated with oil and is nice and hot.
- Add the wine and cook until it is all absorbed by the barley. This will take about a minute or so.
- Add the chopped mushrooms and onion back into the pot, stir to combine, and then add about 4 cups of the broth.
- Cook at a high simmer or low boil until the liquid has been absorbed. Then add 2 more cups of broth and cook until that is absorbed. Then the remaining broth. Here’s where you need to keep your eyes peeled: time to taste – if the barley is not quite cooked though, add more broth in ½ cup amounts until you have the texture you want. This will probably take around 45 minutes, depending on how hot your stove is and the size of your Dutch oven, so keep your eyes peeled and you'll know for sure next time you make it.
- When the risotto is the texture you want, stir in about 1½ cups of the cheese and stir to melt. Reserve the rest for sprinkling over the top right before serving.
- That’s all there is to it.
- FOR THE ITALIAN PARSLEY PESTO
- In a food processor, combine the Italian Parsley, garlic, salt, nuts or seeds of your choice, and lemon juice.
- Pulse to combine (I like mine more chunky than smooth, but do what works for you)
- With the processor running, slowly add the olive oil, and process until everything is combined.
- Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
- To serve: Sprinkle cheese over the hot risotto, and then add dollops of the pesto. It’s always a nice idea to have extra in case anybody wants more of anything.