Tag Archives: chestnuts

Pearl barley risotto with mushrooms, leek and chestnuts

Mushroom barley risotto

Mushroom risotto is wonderful – intense bold earthy flavours with creamy, unctuous rice – and surely is one of the ultimate vegetarian comfort dishes. I recently tried beetroot risotto for the first time and although this vibrant, crimson delight was an unusual and delicious risotto, it wasn’t enough to knock the mushroom variety off the top spot. Squash with blue cheese and crispy sage is also heavenly and is up there on the list but it’s the strong punch of the dried porcini – in my opinion – that elevates the mushroom version ahead of the rest.

I’ve previously made this risotto with Arborio or Carnarori rice and produces an incredibly creamy and satisfying meal. Using pearl barley as an alternative rice gives a slight bite and nuttiness to the dish that is very different but by no means less enjoyable. It’s also a lot easier to cook than Arborio rice as you can add the liquid in one batch then leave it to absorb, rather than the more labour intensive method of adding the stock in small ladlefuls combined with lots of constant stirring.

In an ideal world, you would make this dish with wild mushrooms during autumn when they are in season. However, they are eye wateringly expensive and I live in zone 2 London so sadly foraging for my own is out of the question. This surely is a reason alone to move out of the Kilburn urban jungle to living The Good Life near woodland, countryside and open space. For now the supermarket will have to suffice for the mushrooms required and varieties such as portobello, chestnut, enoki, shitake and oyster are widely available. The risotto will make much more interesting eating if you have a medley of mushrooms with different flavours and textures, so see what you can find. If you can’t source a mixture of mushrooms then increase the amount of chestnuts.

I have borrowed Jamie Oliver’s method of introducing some mushrooms at the beginning and then the remainder at the end that I fry over a high heat until golden and use to top the risotto. It all makes for a taste sensation risotto so tuck in and enjoy!

Why not post your suggestions for other risotto recipes you consider the best and think will rival my mushroom one?

Serves 2, generously

10g dried porcini mushrooms
400ml hot vegetable stock
130g mixed mushrooms, sliced (chestnut, oyster, shitake)
40g butter
1 small leek, cut into thin rounds
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
200g pearl barley
2 tbsp tarragon, chopped
Glass of white wine
10 cooked chestnuts, halved (Merchant Gourmet are good)
2 tbsp crème fraiche
25g Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tbsp olive oil
Large handful of chopped parsley

  1. Put the dried porcini in a jug and pour in 250ml of boiling water. Set aside for 20 minutes to infuse. Drain, reserving both mushrooms and the soaking liquid, ensuring any grit at the bottom gets left behind. Combine the porcini liquid with the vegetable stock into a saucepan and put on a low heat. Roughly chop the mushrooms and set aside.
  2. Heat 25g of the butter in a large frying pan over a low heat until foaming and then add the leeks. Fry gently until beginning to turn translucent, about 8 minutes, add the garlic and cook for a further minute.
  3. Add the pearl barley and the tarragon to the pan and give a good stir so that so everything is well combined. Turn up the heat, add the white wine and bubble until almost absorbed.
  4. Add half of the mushrooms and all of the hot stock. Stir well and simmer on a low heat until the liquid has nearly absorbed. This should take about 15 minutes.
  5. Put a frying pan over a high heat, add the remaining butter and a tablespoon of olive oil. Fry the remaining mushrooms for about 1 minute, with some salt and pepper until golden all over.
  6. Stir the chestnuts into the risotto, along with the crème and parmesan. Heat through for about a minute.
  7. Serve the risotto in bowls topped with the fried mushrooms, a scattering of chopped parsley and some extra grated parmesan.

Macaroni cheese with bacon leek & chestnut breadcrumbs

macaroni cheese

It’s New Year and healthy eating should be on the agenda but I’m not ready for the transition from enjoying food with uncaring abandon to careful consumption just yet. Although I didn’t have my usual excess of Xmas goodies, as I was on holiday in Belize over the Xmas period, any normal restraint obviously flew out of the window. Which is as it should be whilst on a holiday. I made up for lack of mince pies and Xmas pudding with lots of chocolate as Belize has some excellent cocoa producers and I indulged in the most decadent dark chocolate torte (it was so good I ordered it the next day too) as well as the best chocolate gelato ever.

I’m easing in gently and being relatively virtuous for breakfast with homemade granola and yogurt (the bacon was sooo tasty though!) and vegetable soup (cream of swede was surprisingly delicious) for lunch, but wanting something more satisfying and hearty for dinner. What with golden-crusted pies currently adorning a lot of the food magazines I guess I’m not the only one who feels this way. The shock of binge then crash diet is too drastic for the body anyway and is not much fun so in my mind it’s best to not to change your diet too drastically. January is a bleak enough month already without having to abstain from all the fun things to eat and drink.

This comforting macaroni cheese dish is like being wrapped in a duck down duvet and will leave you sitting back and patting your stomach with a satisfied smile on your face. Try and buy good quality bacon that has lots of flavour and it won’t be pumped full of water and additives too. To get ahead make up to step 6 and set aside the dish until you’re ready to cook but add an extra 10 minutes to the cooking time to ensure piping hot all the way through. You could serve with a contrasting crisp green salad on the side to offset the creaminess, if you like. Happy New Year!

Serves 2, generously

160g macaroni
2 rashers of smoked or dry cure bacon, chopped into strips
100g chestnut mushrooms
70g butter
2 small leeks
2 tbsp plain flour
450ml full fat milk
50g mature cheddar cheese, grated
20g dried white breadcrumbs
4 cooked chestnuts
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
¼ tsp fresh nutmeg, grated
Salt and pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 190C/fan 170/Gas 5. Cook the macaroni in boiling water until al a dente – about 9 minutes. Add a splash of oil to it prevent from sticking together. Drain and set aside.
  2. Fry the bacon in a small amount of oil over a medium heat until golden. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.  Repeat with the mushrooms.
  3. Turn down the heat then add 30g of the butter and cook the leeks gently until soft. Remove and set aside.
  4. In a small saucepan, melt the remaining butter over a gently. As soon as the butter melts add the flour and, over a medium heat, stir vigorously until you have a smooth paste. Begin adding the milk, a little at a time, incorporating well before adding the next amount of liquid. When you’ve added about half the milk you can start to add more milk whilst stirring briskly. Once all the milk is in turn down the heat, add the cheese and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Taste and season with grated nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  5. While the sauce is simmering, blitz the breadcrumbs and chestnuts in a mini processor until combined.
  6. Mix the leeks, mushrooms, bacon and thyme in an ovenproof dish. Pour over the sauce and mix gently. Top with the chestnut breadcrumbs and bake in preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes until golden on top and bubbling around edges. Once done, let it sit for a few minutes before tucking in.