Risotto when made well is a delicious and comforting dish, there are any numbers of varieties. However, there is a place I believe for its cousin orzotto, made with pearl barley. I find when using pearl barley in place of rice, it's a good idea to precook the grain before making the orzotto. Although the majority of mushrooms in this dish are cultivated, the addition of a few wild mushrooms makes all the difference. Cooking the button mushrooms correctly is also guaranteed to bring out the best flavour. So often mushrooms are simply cooked long enough for them to soften, but the true flavour of mushrooms doesn't develop until they have been fried long enough to take on some colour and caramelise a little.
For this dish you will need;
200g of pearl barley
300g of button mushrooms
40g of dried porcini mushrooms
1 stick of celery
1 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons of olive oil
40g of unsalted butter
500ml vegetable stock
Black or white pepper
Parmesan for serving and if you have it a little white truffle oil stirred in at the last minute.
Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in 200ml of the vegetable stock, after they have fully rehydrated (30 minutes) strain them and pour the liquer back into the stock pot.
Bring 500ml of water up to a boil and put in the pearl barley, turn down the heat and cook for ten minutes. Switch off the heat and cover, the barley should absorb almost all of the remaining liquid.
In a large pan, saute the sliced button mushrooms gently until all the liquid they release, has been driven off and the mushrooms have taken on a little colour. Add the chopped onion, garlic and celery, and continue cooking until the vegetables have become translucent. Cut up the porcini mushrooms into pieces roughly the size of the button mushrooms and cook along with the rest of the vegetables for a further 2 or 3 minutes. Add the cooked pearl barley and 250ml of the vegetable stock and stir until the liquid has been almost fully absorbed, add as much of the remaining stock as you need to enable the pearl barley to be fully cooked but still retain a bite, it's important that the finished dish isn't too dry or running with too much liquid so gauge this as you go along, I find I use it all as a rule. Stir in the butter and adjust the seasoning to taste with pepper, black or white, whichever you prefer, when the orzotto is off the heat you can stir in a tablespoon of grated parmesan and a little white truffle oil if you have it. An unctuous treat which retains a good bite to both the vegetables and the pearl barley without the issue of having a starchy uncooked centre which can so easily happen with rice.
A nice garnish for this and other risotto type dishes is a tuille made of parmesan cheese. Nothing could be easier, heat an oven to 200C, place small (tablespoon) piles of grated parmesan cheese onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment, leave enough room for the tuille to spread and bake for 7 to 8 minutes. Keep an eye on them, they are ready when they are a pale golden colour and bubbling, they harden on cooling.