Mushroom Basil Barley Risotto topped with Pine Nuts and Carmelized Onions

One of the many things that I love about barley is its seem-less entry into turning itself into a lovely risotto. Sometimes you just need something that is a bit more hearty and stick-to-your-ribs, and other times, you just want to avoid white rice. This recipe came out of desiring both. It was cold and we wanted to feel comforted. This my friends, is where barley steps in. Pair it with some hearty porcini mushrooms and a liberal dose of basil; top with carmelized onions and pine nuts for extra flair, and you have a one bowl feast. The result was very delicious. But before the recipe comes to you, a bit of history and nutrition about our humble grain barley. Barley, for those of you who don't know, has been with us since the beginning of time. Before there were refining mills and cross-pollinated strains of god knows what, many people relied on barley as both a food source, and of course, a beverage source (mmmm, beer).The grain is often thought to be the first cultivated grain in our civilization, and according to Pliny, was the food of the gladiators until the rise of Rome. Those in ancient Greece fermented beverages that were made of barley and used in ceremony and ritual. (source). Barley most likely fell out of fashion with the rise of wheat, and thus, the middle and upper classes. In more recent times, barley was considered to be peasant food, while wheat was the grain of choice for those who were prosperous. But here's a little bit more to chew on: one cup of cooked barley provides a quarter of your daily fiber requirements, is high in protein and iron, and is a great of calcium, magnesium, selenium and phosphorus. So onward and upward with barley! In this recipe a simple grain is turned into the most elegant of meals, pleasing the highbrow snob in us all.

Mushroom Basil Barley Risotto topped with Pine Nuts and Caramelized Onions

2 large red onions, sliced into thin half moons
; water for deglazing pan
6 c. water
1 10 oz package porcini (baby bella) mushrooms, stems removed and reserved, caps diced

1 1/2 c. barley
1tbsp olive oil
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
black pepper and salt to taste
1/4 c. pine nuts


For the onions:
We are going to caramelize onions a la Mark Bittman (whom I adore). In a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, place onion slices and a dash of water. Cover and let sit for about 7 minutes, or until onions begin to brown on one side and sugars caramelize on the bottom of the pan. When this happens, add about 1/4 c. (I eyeball it) water to the pan, swishing and scraping with a rubber spatula to de-glaze. Do this as needed until the onions are sufficiently caramelized. I find that once you de-glaze the pan, you are golden (ha ha ha, I have been quite pun-laden lately), and the rest takes about 5 - 10 minutes. Easy and tasty! When finished, cover and set aside.

For the barley:
Place 6 cups of water and mushroom stems in a sauce pan or a large tea kettle (I find that my kettle is great for this!). Heat until significantly warm; turn off heat and cover.

Following this, place oil in a medium-sized casserole, preferably cast-iron. Heat oil and add barley, stirring to coat each grain and toasting a bit. Add mushroom stock 1 cup at a time, stirring for a majority of the time to release the starches in the grain. As the liquid is absorbed, add 1 more cup stock. After adding the fourth cup of liquid, stir in chopped mushrooms and cook down. Depending on the tenderness of your grain (yes, you should taste it), you may only have to add one more cup of liquid; others may have to add two. Whatever the verdict is, add the fresh basil in after you have added your last cup of liquid. The idea is to let the basil wilt and infuse its flavors into the dish. Taste again and season with black pepper and salt to your liking (you may notice that I never really cook with salt- and if so, it's just a dash. Too much salt is not good!).

When the risotto is finished, place into serving bowls and top with a healthy dose of caramelized onions. Garnish with pine nuts for extra Gladiator Goodness and supreme upper echelon points.

PS I always promise music as part of the cooking experience, and while Frank and I listen enthusiastically while cooking, I rarely discuss it. While making this meal, I do believe that we were listening to the delightfully challenging and catchy RAM, by Paul McCartney. Released in 1971, it was his second post-Beatle LP, created largely with Linda, and leading into Wings. All Music describes it as 'humble' 'organic' and 'ramshackle'. I call it, catchy, ragged, and almost reeling in the power that it manages to give off to the listener at times. RAM feels like a proper follow up to later Beatle material, while being slightly less abstract in its musical tendencies. The album is a definite investment for those, who like me, are all about the Beatles together and solo, but really really dislike Wings and Ringo.


Mihl said...
7:58 AM, January 26, 2010

Barley is an awesome grain. Thanks for this wonderful recipe!

Veg-In-Training said...
9:57 AM, February 01, 2010

I so love barley. This recipe looks great. I'm printing it off to try very soon! Thanks for posting it!

Anonymous said...
7:34 PM, February 26, 2010

What a great resource!

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