Barley Risotto and Mushrooms form a perfect marriage

Strolling through Borough Market recently, the unmistakable aroma of mushrooms sizzling over heat wafted tantalizingly through the air. Turnips, the gorgeous vegetable stall, has been showcasing it’s amazing variety of mushrooms

by cooking them in a risotto-like dish using spelt instead of rice. The massive paella-style pan attracts a crowd of hungry diners as the mixture cooks, decorated with sprigs of fresh herbs and wild raw mushrooms.  Plenty of shredded Parmesan and chives, parsley and rosemary melts the flavors together.

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I was inspired to try my hand at this recipe at home, using barley instead of spelt as the base along with chanterelles and chestnut mushrooms. The key to its success is building the flavors at each stage of prep and cooking. Cooking the mushrooms first, then setting them to the side, while you cook the barley, will guarantee they won’t get mushy or overdone.

Dried portobellos steeped in stock add depth, sautéed leeks and garlic start the cooking process then the barley is toasted for a few minutes before adding wine and then hot stock.

The stock is added gradually to enhance the the texture of the grain.

Finally, remember to season generously with salt and freshly ground pepper at each stage. Finish with generous lashings of Parmesan and chopped parsley as well as a drizzle of really good olive oil.

Barley Risotto with Mushrooms

Yield: 4 servings

Butter and olive oil

2-3 cups mixed mushrooms, cleaned well and chopped in bite-sized pieces

6 – 8 cups rich chicken or vegetable stock

1/4 cup dried portobellos

1 1/2 cups pearl barley

1/2 medium onion, peeled and chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup grated Parmesan plus more for each serving

Melt 1 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. When the fat starts to froth, add the mushrooms and stir to coat. Saute for several minutes until the mushrooms release their juice. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Continue cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated. Dump the mushrooms out on a plate and set aside. In another medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer then lower heat.  Put a ladleful in a glass measuring cup. Add the dried portobellos, adding more hot stock to cover if necessary. Allow the dried mushrooms to steep until soft, about 30 minutes. Pick the portobello pieces out and chop into bite-sized pieces, set aside. Strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve and set aside. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the saucepan the mushrooms were cooked in and bring to a sizzle over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until aromatics are soft. Season with salt and pepper. Add the barley and stir constantly until the grains smell toasty. Add the mushroom soaking liquid and half the stock, stirring to incorporate. Simmer the mixture over medium low, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the stock by ladlefuls until the grains become swollen and tender. Season well with salt and pepper then stir in the mushrooms, parsley and 1/2 cup Parmesan. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Divide into four portions and top each with more Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.

 

 

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One Good Bite

You know you’re in for an intriguing restaurant experience when there are so many great things on the menu you can’t decide what to order: Brew on the North Cote Road in southwest London holds a treasure trove of choices.

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This location is part of a group that includes four Brew cafes and two Antipodea restaurants (all in southwest London) that are inspired by Australia. That means great coffee is front and center with a variety of hot java drinks as well as fresh-pressed juices, smoothies and milkshakes. They have an in-house baker that makes all the bread, brioche, pastries, pizza dough and even bagels. An onsite butcher cuts all the meat, makes the sausages and grinds fresh beef for the burgers. Some locations have wood ovens for pizzas blistered to perfection and the freshness of produce and ingredients is palpable in each bite.

We started with a couple zingy juice drinks that set the table for our day. The Red Rooster was a gorgeous ruby color with a kick of ginger to get the blood flowing while the Forest Berry Smoothie was a rich, deep magenta blend of four types of berries and apple.

On the heels of that healthy beginning came the Brew Melt, a comforting nosh of ham and melted gruyere with tomatoes on Brew’s homemade bread. Two perfectly poached eggs had our forks jousting for yolk position while a dab of pesto spiked up the Indian summer flavors.

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An order of woodland mushrooms with yogurt, spinach and more of the pesto exceeded the sum of its parts; the creamy sauce was a shoe-in for some cholesterol laden concoction but it was really just Greek yogurt stirred into the luscious pan juices of the season’s best fungi. I’ll be making this one at home….

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Of course, you get what you pay for so prices are a little higher than the competition for mains, egg dishes and those fun drinks; our brunch cost about £26 however we shared the sandwich and mushrooms.

That doesn’t seem to put off customers – as we left, a line streamed out the door and down the block, a testament to the popularity of all things Brew, which serves the neighborhood with Aussie inspiration for every meal of the day.