Mushroom Barley Risotto

Serving Size: 6

Risotto is a rice dish that is usually served as a primo, or first course, before the main course.  Classic risotto is prepared with a specific type of white rice.  My version, however, is made with barley (a whole grain) and cooked in the style of risotto, which means that liquid is added to the grain in increments and stirred often. Barley has a nice nutty flavor that works well with the earthiness of the mushrooms and thyme in this dish.

Traditional risottos are finished with grated cheese and butter or sometimes mascarpone cheese.  My version uses grated Pecorino Romano cheese and a small amount of reduced fat cream cheese, which not only adds creaminess but a nice flavor as well. This dish takes a little time and patience to make because barley takes longer to cook than traditional risotto rice.  If you don’t have the time to stand over the stove stirring the whole time, you can add the liquid in larger increments. Buon appetito! 

Ingredients

  • 1 Quart low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
  • kosher salt
  • 1 Ounce reduced fat cream cheese
  • 0.5 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 2 cup baby spinach
  • 4 Ounce cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 Ounce oyster mushrooms, sliced
  • 0.75 cup dry white wine
  • 1.5 cup pearl barley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tsp chopped fresh thyme, for divided use
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 0.5 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 tsp olive oil, for divided use
  • black pepper

Directions

  1. Heat the stock and 4 cups water together in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until translucent.  Add the garlic, 2 teaspoons thyme, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook another minute until fragrant.  Add the barley and stir to coat all of the grains with the oil.  Add the wine and cook 2-3 minutes until it is absorbed.
  3. Add the stock to the barley in increments of about 1½ cups, stirring often to prevent the grains from catching bottom.  Adjust the heat to keep the mixture at a low simmer.  After each addition of liquid, let the barley absorb most of the liquid before adding more.  The process should take about 40 minutes and at the end, the barley should be tender but with a chewy texture.
  4. While the barley is cooking, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat.  Add the mushrooms and sauté until nicely browned, 3-4 minutes.  Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper.  Set aside.
  5. When the barley is cooked, lower the heat and stir in the mushrooms, spinach, pecorino, cream cheese and remaining teaspoon of thyme.  Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with an extra sprinkle of pecorino if desired.  Serve immediately.

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