Turn risotto into an easy weeknight meal with healthy barley and a rich mushroom flavor.
Risotto is the rich and creamy Northern Italian specialty typically made with long-grain Arborio rice. It has an unfortunate reputation for being work-intensive and difficult to make since you need to add the liquid slowly while stirring constantly for about 45 minutes. This variety uses whole-grain barley and only needs a few minutes of stovetop cooking before going into the oven. It doesn’t get any easier!
The most common misconception when preparing mushrooms is that they need to be intensely washed before using. Mushrooms soak up liquid like a sponge, so if you rinse them like other vegetables, you’re taking away a major opportunity for flavor and your cooked mushrooms will be mushy. The chef’s recommendation is to only use a cloth to gently brush off any obvious dirt. I usually meet in the middle and dampen a kitchen towel and gently scrub the tops and stems to remove dirt without adding excess water.
The next step is to trim the stems. Mushroom stems are entirely edible, but depending on when they were trimmed, the cut ends may be tough and extra dirty. I just trim a tiny bit off the bottom before cutting or tearing into bite-sized pieces.
This next step might surprise you again, I typically tear my mushrooms rather than cut them into slices. When torn, there are more craggy edges that get crisp and flavorful when sauteed. Plus, the rustic torn look is just perfect for mushrooms.
Cooking with Barley
Barley is a healthy cereal grain and a member of the grass family. It is the whole grain commonly used to make beer and whiskey, animal feed, and as a health food. Barley is packed with vitamins and minerals and is particularly rich in fiber.
Most commonly, barley is used in soups and stews. This recipe allows the barley to soak up all the liquid for a thick, risotto-like texture.
Pearl barley is a version of hulled barley where both the tough outer grassy casing (the hull) and the fiber-rich inner layer that encases whole cereal grains (the bran) has been removed. Simple hulled barley has greater nutritional benefits to pearl barley, but requires hours of extra soaking to make it edible, much like dried beans. That step simply isn’t necessary for weeknight cooking, so I chose to use pearled barley for this recipe.
Baked Barley Risotto with Mushrooms
- 4 tablespoons butter separated
- 2 pints brown mushrooms cleaned and torn into bite-sized pieces
- 3 shallots finely chopped
- 3 stems thyme
- kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 8 ounces baby spinach
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan 2 ounces, plus more for serving
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Heat oven to 400° F. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a Dutch oven or large oven-safe saucepan with a lid over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, shallot, thyme, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring often, until the mushroom begins to brown, 4 to 6 minutes.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove the mushrooms to a separate bowl and set aside. Leave the cooking liquid, thyme, and as many of the shallots as possible in the pan.
- Add the barley to the pan and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the broth and bring to a boil; cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Bake until the barley is tender, 35 to 40 minutes.
- Remove the thyme stems and stir in the spinach, mushrooms, Parmesan, and butter. Heat until the spinach is soft and mushrooms heated through. Serve with additional Parmesan and cracked pepper on top.