Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mushroom & Barley Risotto

Since it has been steamy and rainy in Philadelphia for about a thousand straight days, it doesn't quite feel like fall just yet, and I kind of wish it would just hurry up and get here. Still, I'm keeping the faith and since the sun actually did come out today, I felt like cooking a fall favorite that I started making at just about this time last year.

You'll be happy to know that this dish is much less annoying than your average risotto. Not that I'm hating on risotto; I respect and admire anyone with the patience to make a good one. Still there is really no need to stand over this, the barely version, adding the liquid one eye-dropper at a time, so you can do other things instead. Like call all your friends and tell them how yummy this smells while it's cooking, and how jealous they are that they're not having dinner with you tonight.

1 8 oz. box of mushrooms, sliced, or 8 oz. assorted varieties
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup pearl barley
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
2-3 tsp fresh thyme leaves, plus one single sprig for serving
1 14.5 oz. can or about 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock, low-sodium
Salt & pepper
2 tsp butter

grated Parmesan for sprinkling (optional) 
about 1/4 cup of wine, white or red (optional and recommended)
Toasted walnuts or pine nuts for sprinkling (optional and recommended)

1. In a medium frying pan or sauce pan over medium-high heat, melt butter and saute onion and mushrooms until they release their juices and the juices have mostly evaporated. Add salt and pepper. Add wine, and continue to cook for about 2 to 3 minutes. (This is my favorite part. It smells so good you practically want to climb inside).
2. Add barley and bay leaf, and stir to toast the grains for about a minute. Once the barley soaks up the juices, add stock and thyme and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low, cover and let cook until barley is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 20-25 minutes. (About halfway through, check to be sure more stock is not needed.)
3. To serve, plate and garnish with a single spring of fresh thyme and Parmesan. Serve with freshly ground pepper.

I'm sure some people would yell at me for opening a lidded pan while it's cooking, but those people weren't around this evening. If there is too much liquid and the barley is ready, just simmer uncovered for a couple of minutes at the end.

It might seem weird to use red wine in a risotto, but it's what I had on hand so I tried it out, and it was completely delicious. There might be a rule against this, but if you're anything like me (meaning that you like things that are delicious), the rules are irrelevant. White wine might be better, but I'm not disappointed with how this turned out. I believe wine is necessary for a really great risotto, but I've made this dish without it in the past and while it's less attention-grabbing, it's still yummy. If you're not the boozing kind, don't fret; I'm pretty sure all the alcohol cooks off anyway.

The original recipe that I read for this dish many moons ago called for thyme and dried marjoram. Since then I've tried all thyme, mostly thyme and a little marjoram, and thyme and marjoram with a dash of dried, ground sage, and all have been delicious. The rich flavor of the sauteed mushrooms with the hearty chewiness of the barley and the herbs... Yum! You can't lose.

Quote of the Day: In the age of acorns, before the times of Ceres, a single barley-corn had been of more value to mankind than all the diamonds of the mines of India." ~ Henry Brooke

P.s. Good luck finding a quote about barley that isn't from the Bible. Weird.

Note: To veganize, use veggie stock, olive oil instead of butter, and obviously skip the Parmesan - but not the wine! You really need one or the other.

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