Mushrooming was something that my Dad did years back when I was much younger. I was never invited along on his forays, and to this day I joke that it was because I’d probably have told everybody where his spots were.
He was Polish, and being Polish meant that he was obligated to engage in the very Polish national pastime of mushroom hunting. However, we lived in many places over the years where engaging in this pastime of his was impossible. During those times I began to encounter altogether new kinds of mushrooms: gross, slimy things that either came in cans or “fresh” sliced versions that could be found in any number of fast food salad bars. These aberrations of the Fungi Kingdom would remain my sole choices when it came to food, and thus began a deep resentment and underlying disgust for something that should (and could) have been a defining factor for who I was.
“Mushroom hunting is a treasured Polish pastime, a peaceful way to spend time in the wilderness while collecting treats for the dinner table.” —Aaron Kase, Munchies, 2017
So I turned my back on a large part of my Polish heritage and carried this unnecessary hatred of mushrooms with me for years…decades, even. During this time had you offered me something with mushrooms in it, I would have overdramatically snubbed it. “They feast on the dead,” was a particularly favorite retort of mine on this matter. If you still insisted that I try the dish, you’d more often than not be handed back a plate where everything except the mushrooms were eaten.
Not even living in a larger, urban environment with access to high quality fungi would do much to deter my opinion. The piles of Chanterelles, Matsutake and other exotic edibles featured at such reputable places as Berkeley Bowl or The Monterey Market would do little to stir my soul. In fact, it would take a complete upending of our life to make me fall in love with ’shrooms again.
Now I relish not only mushrooms, but also the national pastime that I never used to take part in. I’d like to think that my Father—who left this world four years ago—would be proud that I’ve finally picked this part of my heritage back up. He would more than likely scratch his head if he were still around and I offered him a plate of something so preposterously named as “Barley Risotto with Porcini Twice Two Ways,” but I think he’d taste a bit of home in every bite.
Barley Risotto with Porcini Twice Two Ways
PREP TIME: 40 MINUTES ● COOK TIME: 30 MINUTES ● SERVES: 4-6
- 4½ cups water
- ½ cup dry white Vermouth
- 2 ounces dried Porcini
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 6 large garlic cloves, chopped and divided
- 2 shallots, chopped and divided
- 6 large garlic cloves, chopped and divided
- 1 pound fresh Porcini, chopped
- 1¼ cups pearled barley, rinsed
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
- 1 large bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- Parmigiano-Reggiano, optional
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Maldon finishing salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Finely chopped flat leaf parsley
- Crispy Fried Porcini
- Start things off by making the broth: put 2 ounces of dried Porcini into a saucepan along with the water and Vermouth and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from heat and place a tightly fitting lid onto the pan. Put aside and allow to sit for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- Pour two tablespoons of olive oil into a wide skillet and fire up the burner to medium-high. When hot, add half the garlic, half the shallots, all of the chopped fresh Porcini and a bit of the chopped flat leaf parsley. Sauté for about 4 minutes, stirring constantly. When the mushrooms begin to release their aroma and start to brown, they’re done. Scrape everything into a bowl and set aside.
- Now let’s go back to our broth: take off the lid from the pan and remove the Porcini from the liquid. Using your hands, press out as much liquid from the Porcini as you can. Give them a good rinse and then roughly chop them on a cutting board. Heat up the skillet you just used again to medium-high heat and when hot add the previously-dried Porcini and stir (you may need to add in a bit more olive oil). Cook until brown and crispy, then set aside.
- Put the saucepan with the broth back onto a burner and set the heat to medium-low. Take your barley and give it a good rinse in room temperature water.
- Grab another, larger saucepan and pour in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and set the burner to medium-high heat. When hot, add the remaining garlic and shallots and stir until they are soft and translucent. Add in the barley and herbs and stir until the grains are well coated with olive oil and everything seems more or less mixed.
- Begin to add the broth, a ladleful at a time, stirring after each addition and waiting until the broth is absorbed by the barley before adding the next. Repeat this process until the barley reaches a texture to your liking or until all of the broth has been used.
- Stir in your sautéed fresh Porcini, mix evenly then remove from heat.
- Spoon your risotto onto plates or bowls. Garnish with a drizzle (or glug) of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and a smattering of chopped flat leaf parsley. Top that all with a good amount of the Crispy Fried Porcini and Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings. Serve immediately.
If you follow the recipe as outlined, the barley will be cooked but should still have a lot of bite and chew to it. In my opinion that’s the exact texture it should have. It will contrast nicely with the textures of the “twice two ways” Porcini and just makes the dish seem complete. However, if you absolutely need your barley softer, you have two options: 1. you can soak it overnight in water, and/or 2. you can par-boil it for 10 minutes, tasting often to ensure that you do not overcook it.
Fresh Porcini—wild or store-bought—aren’t always the easiest mushrooms to get your hands on, but any number of other wild or cultivated fungi could work in place instead. While Chanterelles and Black Trumpets have a different flavor profile, either would be a great substitute. Shiitakes would go well with barley, too—but if all else fails I’d go with dark Cremini. As a worst-case scenario, you could double the amount of dried Porcini and use half of it instead of the fresh called for.
This dish is easily vegan-ized by omitting the Parmigiano-Reggiano…but can’t you do better than that? If you’re serving this to vegan friends or are vegan yourself, why don’t you go with any number of the amazing cultured nut-based “cheeses” out there. Violife’s Prosociano Wedge is actually shaped like a wedge of cheese, and I hear great things about it (and the rest of the Violife family of products).