Sunday, January 10, 2010

Barley Risotto with Mushrooms, Kale, and Sweet Potatoes

Sometimes I'm inspired to make new recipes from watching the Food Network, other times it's from reading my favorite blogs, and occasionally I'll just find a new or unusual ingredient that I simply have to try. Combine all three of those reasons and you get this fantastic winter dish I made tonight.

While at Bill's last week picking up some necessities (ha ha) like wasabi peas, nuts, dried mango and papaya, feta, and kalamata olives, I came across a bag of dried Chilean mushrooms. I've never used dried mushrooms before - sounded challenging!

Then I saw an episode of 30-minute meals where Rachael made a broken spaghetti risotto with dried mushrooms, reconstituting the mushrooms in water to create a mushroom stock.

Finally, my favorite food blog the Smitten Kitchen posted this week about a risotto substituting barley for the rice or pasta. And I just so happened to have about 1 cup of barley left (I like to keep it on hand to add to vegetable soups).

It seemed that the universe was telling me to make this dish! I started by heating up 6 cups of water and adding 1/2 of the bag of dried mushrooms in a medium pot. Dried mushrooms can have a lot of grit on them so it's a good idea to use a strainer before ladling up the liquid into your risotto (a Rachael Ray tip that was very useful!).

Risotto making is a method that is quite a process. It usually involves toasting your rice or barley or pasta in some oil and/or butter then stirring in one ladle-full of liquid at a time while stirring constantly to create a creamy texture to the dish.

I started with some oil and butter, 1/2 a yellow onion, red wine, thyme, and the barley. Then add your mushroom stock one spoonful at a time. To find out if the risotto is ready for more liquid, I scrape my wooden spoon across the bottom of the skillet...if you can see the dry bottom of the skillet for more than 1 or 2 seconds then you can add more liquid. If not, keep stirring until more liquid absorbs into the barley.

After 30 minutes or so, you should have nice soft barley and a flavorful creamy sauce with it. You can mix in anything you like at this point. I fished out the reconstituted mushrooms, chopped them, and added them to the risotto. Then I also added chopped kale and some diced sweet potato that I had roasted a day ago.

This risotto was fricking incredible. Clearly, I loved it!

Mostly because I was proud of my made-up recipe and also because it was so delicious. The mushrooms give it such a depth of flavor - a really meaty/beefy taste. And the sweet potatoes give that sweetness and lightness to balance it out. And, mushrooms are a perfect marriage with red wine. So there is red wine in the risotto and I had a big glass on the side - it tasted fabulous together. Finally, I love the barley! More texture than rice and better tasting than pasta. And the recipe made enough to feed an army. It will make a tasty and hearty lunch at work this week.

Barley Risotto with Mushrooms, Kale, and Sweet Potatoes
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 cup pearled barley (or rice, or broken spaghetti)
1 tsp fresh thyme (1/2 tsp dried)
1 cup dried mushrooms
6 cups water
1 cup red wine
1 bunch of kale, stems removed and leaves chopped
2 sweet potatoes, peeled, diced, and roasted

Heat the water in a medium pot and add the dried mushrooms. Have strainer and ladle handy.

Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a large skillet and add the onion, some salt and pepper, and thyme. Cook 3-5 minutes or until soft. Add the barley and cook another 2-3 minutes or until liquid has evaporated and you can smell the barley toasting. Add the wine and stir until liquid is absorbed.

Add one ladle of the mushroom stock to the barley and stir until liquid has absorbed. Repeat this step until most of the liquid is used up and the barley has softened (may take up to 30-40 minutes). Fish mushrooms out of the remaining stock with the strainer. Chop and add to barley. Add kale and sweet potatoes to barley. Stir some more. Add one big handful of grated parmesan cheese and stir again.

Serve with more freshly grated parmesan on top and a big glass of red wine.

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