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.
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