I love winter food. The hearty stews and braises, brothy noodles, warming curries, all those root vegetables and citrus fruits… There’s no better time to hold a steaming bowl of something nourishing close than February, and this year, I have a new dish to add to the cold-weather pantheon.
Meet pearl barley risotto. Like a barley stew that’s been cooked down until most of its liquid has been absorbed, it’s less finicky to make than traditional risotto. I was first inspired to try it after noticing a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s seminal Jerusalem. Their pearl barley risotto is made with tomato passata and has a Mediterranean feel, while this version is resolutely wintry with its porcini stock and chestnut mushrooms. (I did pinch their marinated feta topping though.)
This recipe meets my 2023 goal of eating more vegetarian food at home, but also has an added benefit: It goes beautifully with Shiraz (Syrah), which might be my favourite grape. Black pepper is a signature Shiraz note and it can also taste like tobacco, olive tapenade or even smoked meats – little wonder barbecue is a go-to pairing. Biggie Shackleton, made by Fin Wines in Australia’s Yarra Valley, has that savoury profile, that earthiness and rusticity (as well as a twiggy herbaceousness, courtesy of the Cab Franc).
It can be difficult to find a vege-friendly pairing for such a wine, but when I first took a sip after a mouthful of this risotto, I was struck by just how harmonious these two were. Both purred with umami, both evoked dark earth, both felt fully appropriate for the season. If the February doldrums are good for anything, it’s for moments like this – for warm bowls of barley risotto and glasses of Biggie Shackleton on the side.
Mushroom and Pearl Barley Risotto with Marinated Feta
Loosely adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi
For the porcini stock:
40g dried porcini mushrooms
1.5 litres boiling water
For the risotto:
30g unsalted butter
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large carrots, peeled and finely diced
5-6 stalks celery, finely diced
6-8 échalion shallots, finely diced
6-8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Fine sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
600g chestnut mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
Large handful fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped (plus additional for garnish)
500g pearl barley
200ml white wine or sherry (I used an amontillado sherry)
10-12 sprigs thyme (tied together to make a bouquet garni)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
For the marinated feta:
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1. First, make the porcini stock. Add the dried porcini mushrooms to a large bowl and pour over the boiling water. Leave to infuse for 20-30 minutes. Strain the stock into a new bowl and retain the rehydrated porcini mushrooms; squeeze out any extra moisture and finely chop. Set aside.
2. To a Dutch oven or other large saucepan, add the butter and olive oil, and place over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the carrots, celery, shallots and garlic, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5-6 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened and the shallots are translucent. Add the chestnut mushrooms and oregano, and cook, stirring frequently. The mushrooms will shrink and release water; cook for roughly 5 minutes, or until any excess moisture has mostly evaporated.
3. Rinse the pearl barley, then add to the pot. Mix through and then add the wine or sherry, cooking until the liquid has nearly evaporated. Add the reserved porcini stock, the thyme bouquet garni, the coriander and paprika. Using a vegetable peeler, slice off long strips of lemon zest (being careful not to remove the bitter white pith as you go) and add to the pan, reserving the rest of the lemon. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.
4. Turn the heat down to a low simmer, and cook for approximately 50-60 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, or until the barley has absorbed all the liquid and is fully cooked – it should be tender but still have a bit of an al dente bite. Squeeze over the juice from your reserved lemon and mix through. Taste and check for seasoning, adding any additional salt, pepper or spices if needed.
5. While the risotto cooks, make your marinated feta. Crumble the feta into small chunks and add to a small bowl; pour over the olive oil. Add the caraway seeds and gently mix together.
6. To serve, divide the risotto between bowls. Top with the feta (and drizzle over its olive oil) and garnish with a few fresh oregano leaves.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound and all-around lover of tasty things. You can follow her at @clairembullen. For more recipes like this, sign up to our HB&B All Killer No Filler beer subscription - you'll receive Claire's recipe and food pairings, plus beer reviews and expert tasting notes with up to 12 world-class beers like these ones every month.