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Mushroom Barley Risotto

By Heidi Allison
Image of shallots
Barley brings more to the table than just great taste — it is a nutritional powerhouse that may reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and may help your body to better withstand the rigors of chemo and radiation therapy!

This dish is homage to the exquisite Italian dish, Orzotto. A regional specialty of northeastern Italy, Orzotto was introduced to the culinary stage by Jewish immigrants in the city of Trieste. Although similar to rice risotto, this clever dish switches out the traditional short-grain, starchy arborio rice and uses pearl barley instead. Barley risotto is prepared using the same culinary techniques as conventional rice risotto, however it has distinct advantages over its culinary cousin— it is more forgiving if your technique is not perfect (i.e. does not become a gluey mess), and serving time is extended (barley risotto holds in the refrigerator for 4-5 days and can be reheated with great results, while rice risotto must be served and eaten immediately). Moreover, whole-grain barley is a much healthier choice than white rice, especially for people with diabetes, heart disease or cancer!

While this dish is easier to get right compared to rice risotto, there are a few tricks that ensure its success. Make sure the chicken stock is kept at a gentle simmer. Take the time to properly caramelize the shallots in the beginning of the dish, which brings up their sugars and tempers this veggie’s aggressive “bite.” If you use brandy, add it before the white wine, which lends a “secret” depth of flavor. It’s also important to toast the barley in the pan before adding liquids. What makes, or breaks, this dish is how you handle the barley and liquids: You must continually stir the barley after adding stock (best done with a slotted wooden spoon) until all of the liquid is absorbed, before you add the next ½-cup increment of stock. Agitating the barley releases its starch, and when combined with liquid, creates that rich, creamy, soft -yet -chewy texture we crave — without using artery-clogging butter or cream.

Barley brings more to the table than just great taste — it is a nutritional powerhouse that may reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and may help your body to better withstand the rigors of chemo and radiation therapy! Barley is one of the highest fiber grains: while the fiber in other grains is concentrated mostly in the outer shell, barley’s fiber is contained through the entire grain (one serving contains an amazing 10 grams of fiber!) Barley contains high levels of soluble, beta-glucan fiber which reduces LDL cholesterol, controls high blood sugar levels and improves immunity.
Image of Mushroom Barley Risotto
Mushroom Barley Risotto
Serves: 2 as an entrée; 4 as a side


5½ - 6 cups Chicken Stock
2½ Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 teaspoons Unsalted Butter
6 Shallots, minced (about 1 cup)
Flake Sea Salt
1 large clove Garlic, minced
8 ounces Crimini Mushrooms, cut into a ¼ inch slice
9 ounces Pearled Barley
1 ounce Brandy (optional)
½ cup Pinot Grigio Wine (can substitute with a good quality, dry Italian Marsala Wine and omit the Brandy)
¼ teaspoon Kosher Salt
¼ teaspoon Black Pepper
4 -5 Tablespoons Freshly Grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tablespoons Italian Parsley, chopped

Bring chicken stock to a gentle simmer; then cover. Keep the chicken stock warm at this temperature.

Add olive oil and butter to a 12-inch, heavy skillet, and heat on medium heat until hot. Add shallots, a sprinkle of salt and sauté, stirring occasionally with a wooden, slotted spoon, until translucent — about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute more. Add mushrooms and dry sauté for about 4 minutes, stirring until golden and releasing their juices.

Add barley and stir until golden, toasty and coated with oil — about 5 minutes. Add brandy, bring to a boil, and stir until absorbed. Repeat this step with the white wine, stirring constantly until absorbed.

Add simmering stock, about ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until absorbed, before adding the next half-cup of hot stock. Repeat this process until 5 ½ to 6 cups of stock are used, and the barley is creamy, yet slightly chewy. This process will take about 35-45 minutes.

Remove barley risotto from heat and add Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and stir until cheese melts into the mixture. Top with fresh parsley and serve. Bring extra freshly grated cheese to the table to top risotto as desired.

Authors Notes:
Sometimes I prefer this dish with only Pinot Grigio—sans the brandy. Both ways taste great! If you use Marsala, make sure it is a dry, good-quality Italian wine you could also drink--a cheap one will ruin the dish! To reheat barley risotto, add a bit of chicken stock, and heat on a medium-low setting. This dish freezes well.
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