Mushroom and Mace Pearl Barley Orzotto

Mushroom and Mace Pearl Barley Orzotto

Just had to sneak a primrose into the frame! Even if it’s premature as they don’t flower in the wild until March. But I’ve always loved flowers that bloom in the depths of Winter, even when coloured yellow. Glorious to see any signs of growth with dismal grey skies overhead. And I can’t wait for snowdrops to peep through, later this month. Every year, when it was time for them to burst into flower I’d crawl, as a kid, under the large laurel tree (that no longer exists) within one of several gardens surrounding the house where I grew up, and pick a small posy of them to take indoors as I figured no one else would ever see them. How they survived under such a dense canopy of leaves – one of several of my hiding places – is anyone’s guess. But they thrived. Regardless of little fingers nipping their precious flowers as close to the ground as I could get them. Then, as Spring approached, I would search the hedgerows along the lane for my favourites, white primroses – the elusive ones. As they were very few and far between. And if I couldn’t find them I’d very carefully pick some violets instead – so tiny yet so brilliantly coloured. Or wild orchids that only grew in what was called the dell. And further down the lane I was always in awe of a carpet of wild garlic and lily of the valley that grew harmoniously, under their canopy of blackthorn – that kept adults out of there, but not me! – just past the corner from the bridge that crossed the babbling brook. Hmm, anyone else hankering after spring? Even though it’s been incredibly mild here – with rain like I’ve never seen before – I’m itching for longer afternoons and better natural light. And wild flowers.

Still enjoying comfort food, though. And this Mushroom and Mace Pearl Barley Orzotto is. Partly as it’s exceptionally easy to prepare and cook. Even easier than a risotto as it’s possible to set the timer and leave this bubbling away, knowing there’s very little chance of it burning dry, or overcooking. As it takes almost twice as long to cook compared to aborio rice. There’s a word, or two, of warning. The pearl barley really needs to be soaked overnight as it’s not only much quicker to cook it’ll be much softer to the bite. And believe me, I’ve made this a couple of times recently where I ended up soaking the barley for only around four hours or so - not nearly as velvety soft, like risotto should be. Within the photo, for example, the orzotto was cooked last night. And although it was good it did have that bite to it, which leaves it slightly chewy. Still delicious. What surprises me is that a small portion of this is filling – far more so than risotto. Anyway, very recently Virginia of, Our Growing Paynes ended up making a dish that’s very similar to this one – happy coincidence. And I couldn’t help myself but state within a comment that it was, in fact, along the lines of an orzotto, which hails from Trieste in NE Italy. Not that I’d tasted orzotto when I was there, as it was summer. I can only imagine that this type of food would be much more of a wintry dish. What? No, I didn’t leave all of that info within the comment. Only that I’d hoped to post this last weekend but completely forgot to add the mace! I’m blaming my lack of memory on the lack of daylight.

The second word of warning – and you lot thought I’d forgotten! – is cooking with mace. As I’m relatively new to cooking with it I was quite surprised with how strong it can be in flavour. As I’d let it infuse whilst dissolving the stock cube, cooked the orzotto for all of 15 minutes, it was then that I tasted the stock and decided to remove it and set the mace aside. Knowing that it could be added again toward the end of cooking time. Which I didn’t bother to do. It is delicate in flavour. And I particularly enjoyed it within this dish. Apparently it’s a good pairing with juniper berries. Yes, it is. As I’ve tried that before. But I think I’ll keep the combination for another set of ingredients. Especially if and when I start hankering after a meatier version of this, as poached chicken would be especially good with the mushrooms. And, seriously, does anything beat home-made chicken stock? No, not even white primroses.

Mushroom and Mace Pearl Barley Orzotto


SOAK: pearl barley needs to be soaked overnight (otherwise it’ll take almost twice as long to cook) ~ PREP: about 20 mins ~ COOK: about 45 ~ READY IN: less than 1 hour (doesn’t include an overnight soak for the pearl barley!)

ADDITIONAL EQUIPMENT NEEDED: if cooking for more than 2 portions then a wide sauté pan is advisable, as it will allow the barley/rice to cook more evenly

  • 100g (3.527 oz) x pearl barley, thoroughly rinsed and soaked overnight, or for at least 4 – 6 hours prior to cooking
  • 1 x organic vegetable stock cube
  • 500ml (16.91 fl oz) x cold water
  • 1 x dried bay leaf, split
  • 1 x dried whole blade mace, or equivalent in pieces
  • olive oil
  • 250g (8.818 oz) or more x chestnut (cremini) mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced, either into slices or small chunks
  • 1 – 2 x organic garlic cloves (less is more), root end sliced off, peeled and crushed/minced
  • 2 x smallish stems x fresh thyme, rinsed
  • 1/4 x teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • single/light cream, to personal taste
  • freshly snipped or chopped flat leaf parsley, to serve
  • hard cheese (of personal choice), freshly grated

Measurements within brackets above are approximate only.


  • Rinse the pearl barley thoroughly, regardless of soaking or not.
  • Prepare the stock with the water, bay leaf and the blade of mace and set aside after the stock cube has dissolved completely.
  • Put a large heavy-based saucepan on electric heat No 3 out of 6. Add a glug of oil and add the well drained barley. Stir through occasionally to coat the barley evenly with the oil.
  • Put a pan on heat No 4 and when hot add some oil. Add the mushrooms and stir through. Leave them until they start to absorb their liquid, which can take around 15 minutes. When that happens reduce the heat to No 3 and stir more often to get them nicely golden. Take off heat and set aside. This is when I add the garlic, if using, as otherwise the garlic can burn. It’s simply crushed into the pan, stirred through and allowed to cook with any residual heat left in the pan. Which may not be enough to cook out the rawness of the garlic. If that’s the case, and it’s always detectable by the smell, do put on low heat for about 5 minutes, or until that raw smell disappears.
  • To continue cooking the barley start to add ladlefuls of the stock to the pan and add the thyme, bay leaf and mace. Keep the heat the same and bring it to a boil. If staying in the kitchen stir through occasionally. And remember to taste the stock after 5 or 10 minutes. If there is a fairly strong flavour of the mace detected then do remove it and set aside. When the stock is nearly absorbed add a drizzle of cream, if using, and a little more stock. I tend to keep the heat the same as it will cook quicker. Keep adding both the cream and stock in smaller amounts each time until the barley is cooked. There isn’t going to be a set time for that. It’s a case of testing individual grains of barley to check if it’s nearly cooked or cooked enough. When cooked to your liking add the mushrooms and stir through to reheat. Remove the bay leaf and stems of the thyme before serving.

All photographs within (Todas las fotografías dentro de) Kitschnflavours:
All rights reserved (© Todos los derechos reservados) – Copyright © Johnny Hepburn

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    • It’s not as good as risotto, if you forget to soak the barley overnight. But, it’s good in the sense of its nutrients. And price. Aborio rice over here ain’t cheap. I sort of prefer the idea of paying the same, if not more, for organic long grain for other types of recipes. So the barley is the sub. And will be used instead if I can come up with more recipes.

  1. What a nice orzotto. I never really know how to cook using pearl barley, and this sounds so flavorful. I have a packet of mace which I use every now and then, but also am not used to using it on a regular basis, and this I certainly would never have thought of on my own. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Apart from within soups I’d never cooked with barley like this before. It wasn’t until I Googled a couple of years ago to find out if it would be possible to sub barley for arborio rice. Hah, and it’s called orzotto. Funny, I’ve just thought of Googling Scottish recipes as they might use it more. It definitely features in Scotch broth. What else is there out there? Especially with Burns’ Night coming up on the 25th. Must have a look.

  2. Like your recipe, but love your first paragraph even more! What a vivid description of your flowering-finding sprees. And you’re right – it does leave me hankering after spring, although I’m convinced winter will be coming here soon, and it’ll be a bad one. Nevertheless, I just bought a few hyacinths yesterday to bring a glimpse of spring to the home :-) .

    • And you just might be right, about the doom of winter approaching. February is always the cruelest (hate spellchecker on here with its red squiggly lines! It’s doing it again with spellcheck!) month, the coldest in the UK. Not looking forward to that. But, as we reach Feb at least we’re heading the right way toward spring.
      It’s definitely that time of year for me. I’m drawn to very bright colours right now. So don’t get alarmed if you see neon colours being used in my lead-in photos!

    • I’m with Kiki, love hearing about your childhood memories crawling for those snowdrops. I need to plant them so I can do the same. Who doesn’t want to crawl on those moss covered ground. I might even take a nap! The recipe is very creative, Johnny. Never had barley this way before, never had much of barley actually. I’m going to have to investigate. XOXO

      • It was always nice and dry in under the laurel tree. As laurels very seldom shed their leaves there’s virtually no humus to talk of. And the soil would’ve been very compact. Certainly no moss. And, most importantly, when I was in there no one could find me! Hah! I had several trees dotted around the farm. Great places to read books without being disturbed.
        Had a look within my bookmarks for a treacle tart recipe and there’s nothing! Arrgh! A recipe I’d found was within a forum over here. Who knows if I’ll ever find that again. I’m hoping I made notes longhand, but I doubt it. Most recipes I did find last summer weren’t authentic, in that most didn’t include eggs. The older recipes, if I remember correctly, did. And I’m not even sure if the black treacle I bought is the right type. Still, could always use it and golden syrup. I’m hoping. Ouch!

  3. Pearl barley, mace, juniper, these ingredients just sound so good, especially the idea of adding mace to orzotto! But as I’ve said on a few posts this week, saving this idea for cooler weather, in a stupid heat wave this week. Have only had the quickest stir fries, fresh pasta, Thai salads or 10 minute skillet breads, sigh.

    • I keep wondering what this sort of thing would taste like as a sort of dip in hot weather. You know, served at room temperature. With fairly strong flavours like these being used it might taste okay. Problem is, I’ve been meaning to taste it before reheating. But I’ve forgotten to do that recently.
      Loving the idea of your skillet breads. Must pop over and check for recipes on your blog. I’d love to have a skillet. But I never see them for sale over here. Maybe I should import them and start a business?!

      • No skillet bread recipes on the blog yet, isn’t that remiss of me? Talking about breads and not coming good on the promise.
        I got a fake skillet from a camping shop, they aren’t common here either, normally it’s just frying pans in the shops. So if you start your import business you could branch out to Australia too?
        Mace and juniper dip…I’ll think about that one, you’ve got me curious now!

        • It certainly is! Kidding. Of course it’s not. I’ve made several breads without posting about them.
          Really? From a camping shop…must check that out. As there might be one within the shopping centre that I go to occasionally. I’ve never noticed that sort of thing before. Only ever pans in aluminium. Haha, I love anything fold up, which is why I quite often pop into that sort of shop. And not because I enjoy camping – far from it.

          • To me, camping means wet ground and sleeping on rocks, and carrying Spam in the backpack. Bleagh.
            Might try a “glamping” holiday one day, especially if the tent/cabin came with a glamorous skillet so can make fresh skillet bread.

            • I’ve only read about these glamping venues. They’re much more my sort of vacation! Especially if fully fitted out with a kitchen. Now, where to forage – or is that done for you as well?!

  4. As with Kiki above, I am very much taken by your first paragraph. Anyone who can keep such a beady eye on nature in the depths of winter is certain to rustle up a great deal of taste and texture in the kitchen. Aesthetics are always important and serve to increase our enjoyment of food all the more. (By the way Johnny, did you see that I mentioned your wonderful soup making in one of my posts recentely :

    • Thanks for that link. I’ve had problems with three particular blogs (that I know of), as in following. And I thought I’d sorted all three out. Well, one of them I get updates via Twitter and FB as I’ve given up trying to follow on WP. The other is back to normal with email. Yours ain’t. But I’ve just clicked follow again, for the third time, and your blog has gone in to my Edit List within Reader. Hopefully it’ll work this time. And I’m now wondering how many blogs this is happening to. As I get new followers but never hear from them. Hah, maybe they don’t like what I’m posting! And too polite to unfollow.

  5. Like Kiki, love the first paragraph too! That barley orzotto sounds absolutely wonderful, always have a bag or two of pearl barley in the cupboard. Like nutmeg, mace can be overpowering, I have found that I have to use gingerly. Very nice combination of flavors in this dish!

    • Thanks, Suzanne. I’m hoping typing isn’t as painful for you right now!
      Yes, I was quite surprised with how strong the mace could be. I certainly wouldn’t use it within a home-made stock! For this it was perfect, and so easy to remove and discard. Unlike whole cloves in my green lentil dishes. Talking of which, I really must visit those recipes again.

  6. This looks so warm and earthy. I have some packages of barley in the pantry that I’m so slow to use. I’ve been content to only add barley to long cooking soups and stews a handful or two at a time. I’m going to give this technique a try on my favorite risotto recipes. Thanks for the inspiration :)

    • That’s how I used to cook with barley in the past. Then, discovered that it is possible to sub barley for aborio or risotto rice. Which is great for me as I’ve always loved their flavour. Now I’m hankering after more recipes to use them in. Apart from Scotch broth as I would never find a neck of mutton where I live!

    • Thanks, re photo. Shouldn’t admit this but I threw that set-up together within minutes as the natural light was so dull.
      Yes, I’m only eating vegetarian foods right now. How long that lasts I don’t know. I’m just not missing meat/fish/seafood at all. Happy Birthday, btw. It’s almost time for your day of being spoilt and pampered – I’m hoping. :)

  7. What a gorgeous tableau, Johnny! Love love the photo and the styling. I do not relate to risotto being easy at all but it’s good to know that orzotto is even easier. I’ve never had it but if someone put a plate (similar to yours) in front of me, I’d heartily and gladly dig in, that’s for sure!

    • Haven’t heard of that product. Will Google to see what comes up, as I’ve baked with organic spelt flour but haven’t been able to find any grains here. Would love to try it as I was very impressed with the flavour of the flour.

      • We buy ours from waitrose. Sharphams also have their own range of spelt risottos already flavoured, sold in waitrose, but i don’t see the point of someone else deciding what flavours to use. so we buy the plain.

        • Thanks for the info. There is a Waitrose in a neighbouring town along the coast. It takes forever to get there by bus, as I don’t drive. I’d be quicker off cycling – if I had a bike.

    • Thanks. The photo was very rushed to get it taken in time before the natural light would get any worse. Besides, risottos/orzottos never seem to look very attractive in photos.

  8. I’m quite envious reading that the snow drops will be out later this month. We have a thick blanket of snow with more coming. Lovely post Johnny. I use pearl barley in soup but have never made orzotto. I’ll give it a try. Lovely post!

    • That was a coincidence. Your comment came through as I was publishing mine on your post! Especially so as I have a dial-up connection so I’m constantly disconnecting. Like just now – to grab a large bowl of dessert with crunchy crumble topping made on the hob. Hah. Was rather nice.
      Thank you, re post. It’s very seldom I bother to write much these days. And it’s never planned. As for snowdrops, there won’t be any nearby as I live too close to the coast. Will have to take myself off to a park one afternoon to see them.
      Try and soak the barley overnight if you can as it really makes a huge difference to the texture.

  9. Well, if I didn’t before, I certainly have a hankering for Spring now! Your description of you foraging for Springtime wild flowers is perfect Johnny! I do so miss the sunshine and its warmth. But I try not to think about it just yet. It’s still quite a ways and nothing can de done about this dismal, grey, arctic weather! Nothing except perhaps cooking up some warm and comforting foods such as your Barley Orzotto. Looks wonderful Johnny!

    • Do you think that was tempting fate? As we’re now in a cold snap! And I’ve just cut my hair. It’ll be a ski hat later on out food shopping. Oh yes, six more weeks before we’re heading toward March. And then several more weeks before summer time will change. Does it seem like I’m counting those weeks? Definitely! In the meantime, lots more comfort food in store. :)

  10. You’re so right. Spring should come now. We have daffodils already down here (Cornwall), but the weather is colder than it has been and I’m getting bored of the grey skies. I’m looking forward to Easter :D
    Gorgeous looking dish, but I don’t think I like barley so I might try the remaining ingredients with rice instead – would you be offended? :?

    • No, not much! Of course I wouldn’t be offended. It’s your food! I’ve always loved barley, yet I can’t seem to remember anything other than Scotch broth that I would’ve eaten as a kid. Will have to do some research as Burns’ Night is on Sat. Got my neeps in already. Have no idea why as I don’t celebrate it.

  11. Wow I tried orzotto a few years ago at a friends house (she didn’t buy it in Spain) and I loved it. I’ll have to investigate now that you’ve reminded me of it, see where I can get it. Beautiful photo Johnny! Oh by the way, I had a risotto last week in Madrid in a super fancy restaurant. It was delicious: mushroom with foie gras on top and some oil i can’t remember. I think they used cream and I was too filled up! geez…

    • If it was like risotto over here, as in restaurant cooking, chances are it was full of cream and butter. Certainly over here it’s the butter that would get to me. To the extent I wouldn’t order this in a restaurant. And fois gras is something I’ve never had. I’m not the biggest fan of offal of any sort. But would try it out of curiosity.
      You should give the orzotto a try, especially as you probably know how to cook risotto. Just remember to soak the barley overnight. If you can find that in Spain.

  12. I’m glad you stuck the primrose in the photo because it picks up the color of the pretty plate below the orzotto. Thanks for the tip on soaking the barley, I will have to try it the next time I cook barley. I can see an orzotto in my future as it will be perfect for our cold weather.

    • So pleased you mentioned the colours, as they’re the reason I went for this particular set-up. It was a mere coincidence that the colours are pretty much exactly the same (the photo has been edited but the colours haven’t been manipulated). It’s a shame the photo is way too over the top, or OTT as we call it. Oh well…
      Yes, barley is just great for colder weather. I’ll be searching for more recipes over the next couple of days, partly as it’s Burns’ Night on Sat. Must remember to buy in a vegetarian haggis!

    • Well, I wouldn’t suggest adding a blade of mace to your gin. These days I seem to prefer a very, very dry martini. That’s when I bother to drink alcohol. Which is usually never. :)

  13. I would have never thought to use barely but it looks great, especially with the mushrooms. I have made risotto with brown rice (which i prefer because it feels ‘healthier’ so you have an excuse for eating all the butter oil hahaha). But I do prefer the nutty taste, especially with strong, flavourful vegetables like zucchini and pumpkin. Chicken works great too :)

    • Yes, I do like brown rice. And must try and soak it the next time I’m going to use it. As I found with the barley that it makes a lot of difference to the end result. And I must buy in mushrooms as I haven’t had those in a while. Ah! Maybe stuff them with rice and other goodies.

      • That sounds delicious. I usually fill my field mushies with garlic, thyme and camembert/brie and bake them with olive oil. This is the problem with Summer, (although I love it) you miss out on all the great winter cooking :)

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