It's that time of the year when we really can't kid ourselves that it's still summer. The leaves are changing colour and the scent of wood smoke is in the air (inside and out at our house). It's been raining hard and there's a definite drop in temperature. The perfect excuse, then, for a warming and comforting risotto.
I've used pearl barley for a change. I like it because it has a wonderfully nutty flavour and it makes me nostalgic for the food of my childhood. The only rice we had in the pantry in those days was pudding rice, but pearl barley stretched a good few soups and stews for my mother, who had three gannets to feed and a limited budget.
If you can get your hands on some wild mushrooms they're really good here. Otherwise, try adding dried porcini to fresh chestnut mushrooms. I chose mushrooms and butternut squash for their autumnal flavours but cooked chicken and/or chorizo would work here too. Or perhaps wilt some roughly chopped spinach on top (lid on) towards the end of cooking and fold it through. Maybe not all at once though, eh?
Pearl Barley Risotto with Mushrooms (serves 2 generously)
200g pearl barley
1.2 litres good, well-seasoned vegetable or chicken stock
1 large glass of white wine
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
150 g fresh mushrooms, sliced
10 g dried porcini mushrooms, soaked
About 130 g butternut squash, weighed after peeling and de-seeding (mine was 160g beforehand)
1/2 tspn fresh thyme leaves, picked
Oil and butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A squeeze of lemon juice
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
Pour boiling water over the porcini to cover, soak for about half an hour, then drain through a fine sieve into a bowl. Keep the soaking liquor, chop the porcini and set aside.
Peel and de-seed the squash and cut it into bite-sized chunks. Put it in a tin, toss it in a tablespoon of oil and roast in the oven for 10 minutes or until soft.
Fry the fresh mushrooms briefly in a little butter. Stir in the chopped porcini and thyme and keep on the back of the stove. Warm the stock in a separate pan.
Heat a few tablespoons of oil and a knob of butter in a deep frying pan and fry the onion until soft and golden, adding the garlic towards the end. Pour in the pearl barley, stir to coat in the oil and cook for a couple of minutes on a low heat. Add the mushroom mixture, the porcini soaking liquor and the wine and cook until the liquid has absorbed. Stir often.
Add the stock a ladleful at a time, still stirring and allowing it to be absorbed before adding more, until the pearl barley is cooked through. You may not need all the stock but the barley will take longer than risotto rice - at least 50 minutes.
When it's tender, gently mix through the butternut squash. Check the seasoning, add the parsley and a good squeeze of lemon, clamp on a lid and leave to sit off the heat for 10 minutes before eating. It's good with a peppery rocket salad.