Chickpea and Mushroom Orzotto

Chickpea and Mushroom Orzotto, with caramelised onions (or leeks) and parsley

It’s ages since I’ve cooked either orzotto or risotto. For those who don’t know the difference orzotti (plural) are a speciality of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of NE Italy, that includes the beautiful city of Trieste, where pearl barley is used instead of aborio rice. There are a couple of plus points here as it’s not as easy to overcook (see end of summary) and it stores well overnight. So, as I’m cooking for one I can have this Chickpea and Mushroom Orzotto two days in a row, unlike risotto that is only suitable for risotto cakes the following day. I’d thought of using chicken in this, at least to make home-made chicken stock. As I’m hoping to perfect a Puy lentil dish during the week, now that I know where I might be going wrong, I’ve decided to buy chicken for that recipe instead. Besides, as it’s so darned cold I need those earthy flavours of aubergine, mushrooms and most legumes, especially chickpeas (garbanzo beans), with creamy sauces. And yes, practically all of the ingredients in this recipe are pan-fried. My system copes especially well with this type of comfort food during very cold periods. With plenty of my home-made soups for sups. This time around I’ve soaked the pearl barley overnight as otherwise it takes ages to cook. Having said that this won’t overcook as easily is a bit of a contradiction as mine cooked far quicker than I expected, and I only used about half the stock that I would normally need to cook this without soaking the barley. My only advice is to stay with the pan at all times, and keep testing grains to get them cooked to personal liking, just like it’s necessary to do with risotto. As I was wolfing my way though this for a late lunch I kept thinking this would be even better with leeks. As I stated within my previous post I can’t get leeks here, ATM, with lots of white to them. They’re especially stumpy with just about 2cm or an inch of white. I’ll just have to wait until I can grab really nice looking leeks to try this out again. And I’m hoping for better natural light tomorrow as today was especially dull and grey. Surprised I managed to get any photos at all the light really was that bad.

Chickpea and Mushroom Orzotto, with caramelised onions (or leeks) and parsley

  • Servings: 2 - 3 or 4 as a starter
  • Print


  • olive oil
  • 100g (3.52 oz) x pearl barley, rinsed until water runs clear and soaked overnight (this can be cooked without soaking, but will take up to an hour to cook)
  • 300g (10.58 oz) x onions, halved, peeled, trimmed and each half sliced from near the root end back to where the stem would’ve been, then turn and slice crossways near to the root end to achieve half crescents OR the same amount of leeks, sliced into discs and thoroughly rinsed
  • 1 x dried bay leaf, split in half
  • 1/4 x teaspoon red pepper flakes – optional
  • 300g (10.58 oz) x small closed cup mushrooms, is small keep them whole, if larger then wipe clean, slice in half then turn and slice into smaller pieces
  • 1 x 410g or 246g drained weight (14.46 or 8.67 oz drained) can organic chickpeas (garbanzo beans), thoroughly rinsed OR 100g (3.52 oz) x dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked to the pack’s instructions
  • 500ml (1.05 US pt lqd) x water, (if barley has been soaked only about half of the stock will be needed)
  • 1 x organic vegetable stock cube
  • single/light cream, about 100ml (0.21 US pt lqd) if barley hasn’t been soaked – this time I used only a glug, barely 40ml (o.08 US pt lqd)
  • freshly chopped or snipped flat leaf parsley OR
  • very finely grated nutmeg, about 4 grates to begin with, allow to infuse before tasting and adding more (less is more as the nutmeg can be overpowering)
  • roasted and finely grated or ground hazelnuts
  • freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, to serve

Measurements within brackets above are approximate only.


  • Put a large heavy-based saucepan on electric No 3 (out of 6). When pan is hot and the onions are prepared pour in enough oil to cover the base of pan and add the onions with the bay leaf. Stir through occasionally. After about 10 minutes or so make sure the onions aren’t showing signs of drying out. If this is about to happen with add more oil of a splash of water, the latter I prefer to do. Continue to pan-fry until nicely golden. When at that stage take off heat and set aside.
  • Do the instruction above for the leeks, if using those.
  • Prepare the stock.
  • In a heavy-based pan or skillet put on heat No 3, and when hot enough pour in some oil. Add the soaked and well rinsed barley and stir through to get the grains coated in oil. Prepare the garlic for crushing. After about 5 minutes the grain might start to catch on base of pan. Take off heat and add the crushed garlic. Stir often to disperse the garlic evenly and give this enough time so the garlic really starts to give a very definite aroma. Put back on heat if necessary but don’t allow the garlic to discolour. When that aroma hits sprinkle over the cayenne and pour in a ladleful of the prepared stock, or enough to barely cover. Keep on heat No 3 and allow that to be absorbed. At this stage do not leave the pan. Add more stock and continue to cook, stirring often. After about 10 minutes or so start to test a grain to check on how cooked it is. Add a glug of cream and more stock, adding less each time. Keep testing until the barley is soft enough. Take off heat and set aside with a lid on pan.
  • In the meantime pan-fry the mushrooms on heat No 3 with a little oil. If they start to leach their brown liquid keep with the pan until that is reabsorbed. That’s when the mushrooms need to be stirred through often to prevent scorching. Get them as evenly golden on all sides as possible. When that stage is reached either remove the mushrooms and set aside and add the rinsed chickpeas to the same pan and get those slightly golden as well. When both are ready, and if the barley is cooked then start to add both the mushrooms and chickpeas when they’re slightly golden. Do grab any sediment from this pan with a dessertspoonful of stock and add that to the orzotto.
  • I prefer this with freshly snipped parsley and finely grated hazelnuts. If nutmeg is to be used then do follow the next instruction.
  • As for the nutmeg start off with about 3 or 4 very fine grates of whole nutmeg, stir through and allow time for that to infuse before tasting. If there isn’t a hint of nutmeg add a couple of grates only, repeat process until a hint of nutmeg is just noticeable.
  • Serve in warm plates with your favourite Grana Padano, Parmesan or Pecorino.

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


    • -Thanks for that, re low light. Very nearly didn’t publish today as I wasn’t too sure about the lead-in.
      -Yes, I love barley. Then again, I did grow up on large bowls of Scotch broth!
      -Hmm, just wondering if you’ve had an authentic orzotto as I didn’t get a chance to try it when in Trieste. I’m not even sure what goes into them. Must Google!


  1. Okay, first things first.., I love all your different serving dishes! Especially this one! I love chickpea so much and this looks hearty and delicious. I am intrigued with the addition of nutmeg too; yummy!! Looks perfect; as always!


    • -The nutmeg goes especially well with the mushrooms. I adore chickpeas, and can’t get enough of them, ATM. And I love that I can get organic chickpeas that cost only 15p more than non organic!
      -This recipe I kept simple on purpose. The flavour of pearl barley has to be matched with particular ingredients that are going to compliment rather than detract from. Having said that I’m going to Google and try and find out the ingredients that would be used in an authentic orzotto. Watch out for another attempt – hopefully something you would eat whilst in the beautiful city of Trieste!


  2. A “glub”? Is that like a knob? 🙂

    Looks yummy. Never tried this so will add it to the list.

    In the UK. And where, might I ask, is that mild winter weather one would expect this time of year. It is colder here (and snowing) than it was in Chicago!


  3. Pingback: Mushroom and barley soup recipe. With 1 chilli pepper for the extra taste ;-) | Chocolate Spoon & The Camera

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