Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mushroom Barley Risotto

A couple years ago, I went on a risotto-making kick.  I made risotto once and was so excited by how delicious it was that I made it again and again for a few months, despite all the stirring involved.  I wasn't thrilled about the fact that the main ingredient in traditional risotto, arborio rice, is basically glorified white rice and has about the same nutritional value.  Not to mention that risotto usually involves a healthy amount of butter, cream, and cheese.  For these reasons and also just because my interest faded over time (especially because of all the stirring), I stopped making so much risotto.  The favorite by far of all the risottos I made during that time was a mushroom risotto with homemade mushroom stock, it was really sublime.

So, flash forward to last winter when I saw this on smitten kitchen, which inspired me to think about barley risotto, and this at the New York Times, which got me started making risotto in the pressure cooker.  These two ideas pretty much addressed my main concerns with risotto, the time and effort it takes to prepare, and the refined white rice issue (not that barley makes it a health food, but its certainly better).  As a result, I made a variation of barley risotto quite a lot last winter, usually with mushrooms and either beans or greens added (or both).

Making risotto of any kind in a pressure cooker is great since it cooks twice as fast, or more, and you don't have to stand over it and stir it.  It can be a bit scary, though, since you can't see what is happening and I have more than once accidentally burned the risotto.  I find that the best approach is to err on the side of adding a bit more liquid to make sure it doesn't burn, since you can always cook it off after you depressurize.  If you don't own a pressure cooker, I highly recommend it, both for risotto and for making beans (you can cook a pot of beans in 30-40 minutes without any pre-soaking), but you can also make this recipe the traditional way (you should be able to basically follow smitten kitchen's directions).  I have a fagor pressure cooker similar to this one which I got as a college graduation present and it is still going strong.

I usually go whole hog and make this using homemade mushroom stock rather than storebought, it really tastes much, much better.  The recipe for stock is below the recipe for the risotto and you can make a big batch in advance and freeze it to have on hand - it's also delicious for mushroom sauces, soup broth and I am sure many other things!

Mushroom Barley Risotto with White Beans
  • Olive oil (and butter, optional)
  • 1-2 shallots, finely diced (or 1/2 white onion)
  • 2 cups uncooked pearled barley
  • 1/2 cup white wine (optional)
  • 6 cups mushroom stock, warm/hot if possible (see below for recipe)
  • 4-6 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried or fresh thyme (or more to taste)
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups cooked white beans (from a can or previously cooked)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, half and half, or milk
  • 1/4 cup grated romano or parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in open pressure cooker pot, add shallots and saute for a few minutes over medium heat until tender.  Add dry barley and stir to coat with oil, cook while stirring frequently for 1-2 minutes.  Add white wine if using and stir until absorbed.  Add mushroom stock and cover the pressure cooker and bring to pressure.  Cook for 25-30 minutes then turn off heat and allow to depressurize.  While risotto is cooking, saute mushrooms and thyme in another 1 tablespoon of oil (or oil and butter if preferred).  Cook until mushrooms release their juices, then cook for a few minutes more and then turn off heat.  After risotto is depressurized, open pressure cooker and stir, adding warm water or more stock if it seems dry.  Check the barley to see if it needs to be cooked longer (it will stay a bit chewier than a traditional risotto), and continue to cook if needed, adding water or stock as needed.  When barley seems adequately cooked, stir in the mushrooms and white beans, and stir to combine.  Turn off the heat and stir in the cream, grated cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve warm.

Mushroom Stock
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
  • 1/2 - 1 ounce dried porcini or other mushrooms (about 1/2 - 1 cup)
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2-3 cups chopped mushrooms (mushroom stalks are fine - I save mine in the freezer to use)
  • 1 cup chopped leek greens (again, I save these in the freezer)
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 4-6 thyme sprigs, or 1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 6-10 sage leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 4-5 stalks of parsley
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 2-3 teaspoons salt
Cover the dried mushrooms with 1 1/2 cups hot water and let rehydrate.  In a large stockpot, saute the onions, carrots and celery over medium high heat for about 15 minutes, until the onion browns.  Add the dried mushrooms and their liquid, all the other ingredients, and 10-11 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer partially covered for 40-45 minutes.  Strain out the vegetables and herbs and keep the broth (you can discard the solids).  Use fresh or freezes well.


  1. This sounds delicious. I love risotto, but I've never made it. It always just sounded too intimidating.

  2. Kate... Would you be interested in swapping links? I added you to my Blog sidebar Let me know if you decide to list your blogroll--no pressure whatsoever. lindsay.conner(at)gmail(dot)com


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