Well, after a freakishly warm and dry start, we find ourselves properly stuck into winter at last, complete with sub-freezing temperatures, punitive wind chill factors, and an honest-to-goodness blizzard on the horizon. In times like these, our best defense lies in carbohydrates, and today's recipe delivers them in the form of one of my favorite grains; with its warming combination of barley and mushrooms, this is a hearty dish that will help you feel better about Life, the Universe, and Everything even as you contemplate the frozen landscape outside and put on yet another layer.
Wintry Mushroom & Barley Risotto
~ 1 package dried mushrooms (porcini, oyster, shiitake, maitake; you choose)
~ 6 cups "no chicken" broth
~ 2 large bay leaves
~ 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
~ 1 lb. mixed fresh mushrooms, chopped (I used 50/50 enokitake and king oyster, but plain old portabellas would do)
~ 1 generous tsp. Marmite
~ 1 large onion, small dice
~ 2 cups pearl barley
~ ½ tsp. each: salt, sage, crushed rosemary
~ A few hefty grinds of black pepper
~ 1 cup dry white wine
~ ½-¾ cup fresh, chopped parsley
~ Several hours before you plan to cook the barley, combine the dried mushrooms, broth, and bay leaves in a large, covered pot and heat to almost boiling. Allow this mixture to steep for as long as possible to extract the maximum shroomness before straining out, chopping, and reserving the reconstituted mushrooms.
~ Coat a large, non-stick skillet with cooking spray and cook the chopped, fresh mushrooms in over medium-high heat, adding them in small handfuls to avoid crowding the pan. Once the mushrooms are all brown and fragrant (this should take about 10 minutes), stir in 1 tbsp. of the oil and the Marmite and make sure they are coated with umami goodness. Remove from heat and set aside.
~ In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat the remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat, add the chopped onions, and sauté for 10-12 minutes, until they are quite soft but not browned (add a splash of water or broth if necessary to prevent sticking).
~ Add the barley, salt, sage, rosemary, and pepper, and stir to coat. Continue to cook, stirring, for a few minutes, until the barley gives off a faint toasty smell.
~ Stir in the wine and cook, stirring, until it mostly absorbed.
~ Fish out and discard the bay leaves from the broth, and begin adding liquid by cupfuls, stirring until the barley soaks it up. This process takes a bit longer than it does with rice, but it's also more forgiving, so you can step away from the stove for a few minutes between stirs to refill your wine glass, throw together a salad, pet your doggie, or whatever.
~ Continue adding broth every 5-7 minutes or so, until you have achieved a creamy, risotto-like texture that retains just a little bite. This should take about 35-40 minutes in total, but - as with most things - your mileage may vary.
~ Stir in the cooked and reconstituted mushrooms and the chopped parsley. Combine thoroughly, taste for seasoning, and serve hot.